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Common Hydrogen takes off with the most important hydrogen gas cell ever to fly

As a Common Hydrogen-branded aircraft, geared up with the most important hydrogen gas cell ever to energy an plane, made its maiden take a look at flight in japanese Washington, co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko declared the second the daybreak of a “new golden age of aviation.”

The 15-minute take a look at flight of a modified Sprint-8 plane was brief, but it surely confirmed that hydrogen could possibly be viable as a gas for short-hop passenger plane. That’s, if Common Hydrogen — and others within the rising world of hydrogen flight — could make the technical and regulatory progress wanted to make it a mainstream product.

Sprint-8s, a staple at regional airports, often transport as much as 50 passengers on brief hops. The Sprint-8 utilized in Thursday’s take a look at flight from the Grant County Worldwide Airport in Moses Lake had decidedly completely different cargo. The Common Hydrogen take a look at aircraft, nicknamed Lightning McClean, had simply two pilots, an engineer and quite a lot of tech onboard, together with an electrical motor and hydrogen gas cell equipped by two different startups.

The stripped-down inside contained two racks of electronics and sensors, and two massive hydrogen tanks with 30 kg of gas. Beneath the aircraft’s proper wing, an electrical motor from magniX was being pushed by the brand new hydrogen gas cell from Plug Energy. This technique turns hydrogen into electrical energy and water — an emission-free powerplant that Eremenko believes represents the way forward for aviation.

The gas cell operated all through the flight, producing as much as 800kW of energy and producing nothing however water vapor and smiles on the faces of a crowd of Common Hydrogen engineers and traders.

“We predict it’s a fairly monumental accomplishment,” Eremenko mentioned. “It retains us on monitor to have in all probability the primary licensed hydrogen airplane in passenger service.”

Aviation presently contributes about 2.5% of world carbon emissions, and is forecast to develop by 4% yearly.

Nonetheless utilizing jet gas

universal hydrogen engines

The Common Hydrogen-branded aircraft additionally relied on jet gas. Discover the Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine underneath one wing. Picture Credit: Mark Harris

The take a look at flight, which was successful, doesn’t imply solely zero-carbon aviation is simply across the nook.

Beneath the Sprint-8’s different wing ran an ordinary Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine (discover the distinction within the photograph above), with about twice as a lot energy because the fuel-cell aspect. That redundancy helped clean a path with the FAA, which issued an experimental particular airworthiness certificates for the Sprint-8 exams in early February.

One of many take a look at pilots, Michael Bockler, instructed TechCrunch that the plane “flew like a standard Sprint-8, with only a slight yaw.” He famous that at one level, in degree flight, the aircraft was flying virtually solely on gas cell energy, with the turboprop engine throttled down.

“Till each motors are pushed by hydrogen, it’s nonetheless only a present,” mentioned a senior engineer consulting to the sustainable aviation trade. “However I don’t wish to scoff at it as a result of we’d like these stepping stones to study.”

A part of the issue with at the moment’s gas cells is that they are often tough to chill. Jet engines run a lot hotter, however expel most of that warmth by their exhausts. As a result of gas cells use an electrochemical response quite than merely burning hydrogen, the waste warmth must be eliminated by a system of warmth exchangers and vents.

ZeroAvia, one other startup creating hydrogen gas cells for aviation, crashed its first flying prototype in 2021 after turning off its gas cell mid-air to permit it to chill, and was then unable to restart it. ZeroAvia has since taken to the air once more with a hybrid hydrogen/fossil gas set-up much like Common Hydrogen’s, though on a smaller twin-engine plane.

Mark Cousin, Common Hydrogen’s CTO, instructed TechCrunch that its gas cell may run all day with out overheating, due to its massive air ducts.

One other situation for gas cell plane is storing the hydrogen wanted to fly. Even in its densest, super-cooled liquid type, hydrogen comprises solely a few quarter the vitality of the same quantity of jet gas. Wing tanks will not be massive sufficient for any however the shortest flights, and so the gas must be saved inside the fuselage. Right now’s 15-minute flight used about 16kg of gaseous hydrogen — half the quantity saved in two motorbike-sized tanks inside the passenger compartment. Common Hydrogen plans to transform its take a look at plane to run on liquid hydrogen later this yr.

Making modules

universal hydrogen module

A Common Hydrogen module. Picture Credit: Mark Harris

Eremenko co-founded Common Hydrogen in 2020, and the corporate raised $20.5 million in a 2021 Sequence A funding spherical led by Playground International. Funding thus far is approaching $100 million, together with investments from Airbus, Common Electrical, American Airways, JetBlue and Toyota. The corporate is headquartered simply up the highway from SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, with an engineering facility in Toulouse, France.

Common Hydrogen will now conduct additional exams at Moses Lake. The corporate will work on extra software program growth, and finally convert the aircraft to make use of liquid hydrogen. Early subsequent yr, the plane will doubtless be retired — with the gas cell heading to the Smithsonian Air and Area Museum in Washington, DC.

Common Hydrogen hopes to start out transport gas cell conversion kits for regional plane just like the Sprint-8 as quickly as 2025. The corporate already has almost 250 retrofit orders valued at greater than $1 billion from 16 prospects, together with Air New Zealand. John Thomas, CEO of Join Airways, which plans to be the primary U.S. service to make use of Common Hydrogen’s expertise, mentioned the “partnership offers the quickest path to zero-emissions operation for the worldwide airline trade.”

Common Hydrogen isn’t simply producing the razors — it’s additionally promoting the blades.

Nearly all of the hydrogen used at the moment is produced on the level of consumption. That’s not solely as a result of hydrogen leaks simply and may injury conventional metal containers, however primarily as a result of in its most helpful type — a compact liquid — it must be stored at simply 20 levels above absolute zero, often requiring costly refrigeration.

The liquid hydrogen used within the Moses Lake take a look at got here from a industrial “inexperienced hydrogen” gasoline provider — that means it was made utilizing renewable vitality. Solely a tiny fraction of hydrogen produced at the moment is made this fashion.

If the hydrogen economic system is admittedly going to make a dent within the local weather disaster, inexperienced hydrogen must turn into lots simpler — and cheaper — to supply, retailer and transport.

Eremenko initially began Common Hydrogen to design standardized hydrogen modules that could possibly be hauled by commonplace semi-trucks and easily slotted into plane or different automobiles for fast use. The present design can hold hydrogen liquid for as much as 100 hours, and he has usually likened them to the comfort of Nespresso items. Common Hydrogen says it has over $2 billion in gas service orders for the last decade forward.

Prototype modules have been demonstrated in December, and the corporate hopes to interrupt floor later this yr on a 630,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for them in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That just about $400 million venture is contingent on the success of a beforehand unreported $200+ million U.S. Division of Vitality mortgage software. Eremenko says the applying has handed the primary part of due diligence inside the DOE.

An extended runway

Some consultants are skeptical that hydrogen will ever make a significant dent in aviation’s emissions. Bernard van Dijk, an aviation scientist on the Hydrogen Science Coalition, appreciates the simplicity of Common Hydrogen’s modules, however notes that even NASA has hassle controlling hydrogen leaks with its rockets. “You continue to have to attach the canisters to the plane. How is that every one going to be secure? As a result of if it leaks and anyone lights a match, that may be a recipe for catastrophe,” he says. “I believe they’re additionally underestimating the entire certification course of for a brand new hydrogen powertrain.”

Even when these obstacles are overcome, there may be the issue of constructing sufficient inexperienced hydrogen utilizing renewable electrical energy, at a worth folks shall be ready to play. “If you wish to get all European flights on hydrogen, you’d want 89,000 massive wind generators to supply sufficient hydrogen,” says van Dijk. “They might cowl an space about twice the dimensions of the Netherlands.”

However Eremenko stays satisfied that Common Hydrogen and its companions could make it work, with the assistance of a $3 per kilogram subsidy for inexperienced hydrogen in Biden’s Inflation Discount Act. “Of all of the issues that hold me awake at evening,” he says, “the price and availability of inexperienced hydrogens will not be one in all them.”



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