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ZeroAvia unveils hydrogen fuel cell powertrain for aviation

In the latest effort to make aviation sustainable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ZeroAvia announced advancements in developing a hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain.

The solution aims to deliver the same performance as a conventional aircraft engine, and much lower operating costs. ZeroAvia plans to start supplying its platform to commercial operators and aircraft manufacturers in 2022, initially targeting up to 500-mile regional flights in 10 to 20-seat fixed-wing aircraft.


ZeroAvia prototype shown powering a 6-seat Piper M-Class aircraft, already in flight tests from February 2019.

Using hydrogen produced from local renewable energy is the most practical way to enable zero-emission aircraft of commercially meaningful size on traditional 300 to 500-mile regional missions. It will also be more economical than conventional turbine engines, or even the battery-based systems, on the total cost basis. We calculate the total costs of operating a ZeroAvia aircraft to be close to half of what it costs to fly a conventional turbine aircraft, due to lower fuel input costs, higher powertrain efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs.

—Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia Founder and CEO

ZeroAvia was founded by serial cleantech entrepreneur Val Miftakhov, who is also an avid airplane and helicopter pilot. He previously founded and was the CEO of eMotorWerks, a smart grid electric vehicle charging company acquired in 2017. The core leadership team at ZeroAvia includes alumni from Tesla, BMW, NVIDIA, Zee Aero, Air Liquide, and SystemIQ, as well as other founding members of eMotorWerks.

The company is already flight-testing its powertrain prototype in a Piper M-Class airframe. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an Experimental R&D Certificate to ZeroAvia’s Piper M-Class R&D platform earlier this year.

At a 2-ton takeoff weight and with six seats in a business-class arrangement, it is currently the world’s largest zero-emission aircraft flying without any fossil fuel support, according to publicly available information. The aircraft has completed a variety of test flights, which validated key components and their integration into a complete powertrain system. These tests confirm the company’s fuel economy and maximum power delivery targets.

ZeroAvia is initially targeting 500-mile flights to serve the short-haul and commuter air travel markets, which make up nearly half the commercial flights worldwide. Powered by ZeroAvia powertrains, smaller zero-emission aircraft could achieve similar per-seat economics as today’s large regional jets, allowing economical use of smaller local airports for point-to-point travel with virtually no security lines or delays, and a much more pleasant overall flying experience.

In addition to passenger transport, the ZeroAvia powertrain could have applications across other use cases including cargo, air taxi, agriculture, as well as across the aircraft types, including manned and unmanned fixed-wing, rotorcraft, and more.

Starting in 2022, the ZeroAvia powertrain will offer operators a sustainable option for new aircraft made by established manufacturers where customers already purchase their aircraft. ZeroAvia will lease the drivetrain to customers and provide fuel and maintenance as part of its power-by-the-hour model, in which customers pay only for the hours that they use the drivetrain. This model emulates engine leasing options already popular in the aviation market.



RB: A group has built (directly form used or new oil wells) clean H2 extraction pilot plant in Alberta and claim that they could produce clean H2 for less than 50 cents/Kg.

USA/Canada have many similar appropriate sources for a few thousand such facilities. Clean very low cost H2 could easily be piped to most airports and main ground stations for FCEVs and trains etc.?

Roger Brown

HarveyD: The article mentions renewable H2 not H2 from fossil fuels. The article I found on the tar sands process claims that O2 is injected and H2 is extracted. I do not believe that this process does not produce CO2. Perhaps the claim is that the CO2 remains underground so that this process is a form of CCS. If so I would need to see a lot of operational data in order to be convinced that the CO2 is permanently sequestered. Furthermore hydrogen pipelines are considerably more expensive than natural gas pipelines because of the tendency of H2 to embrittle steel and other metals. This cost would have to be factored into the cost of the delivered H2.

Roger Pham

>>>>>"Why would anyone use hydrides at 10.5% H2 by weight when you've got ammonia at 17.8%?"
Answer: Because Ammonia is not Hydrogen, when Hydrogen can be flowed in pipelines from sources to all end users with similar ease as Natural gas. Ammonia is too toxic for widespread usage by end-users.

>>>>>>>"Furthermore hydrogen pipelines are considerably more expensive than natural gas pipelines because of the tendency of H2 to embrittle steel and other metals. "
Answer: 1) Only large high-pressure Hydrogen pipelines needs to be made out of stainless steel instead of carbon-steel. Local low-pressure piping network for natural gas can accept 100% Hydrogen without problem.
2) The cost of steel is only a fraction of about 1/4 of the total cost of natural gas pipeline construction, so even more expensive stainless steel required for Hydrogen would not be prohibitive.
3) Furthermore, when new Hydrogen pipelines are to be built on the right-of-way of existing natural gas pipelines, the cost of permit and right-of-way acquisition will be avoided, thus can represent significant cost saving.
4) Many natural gas pipelines are old and are almost due for replacement anyway, so we can subtract this cost from the additional cost of build out a new H2 pipeline transportation network.


We're not talking about "widespread use by end-users", Roger.  We're specifically talking about the aircraft industry here, which is extremely weight-sensitive.  The difference between 10.5% and 17.8% is highly significant when you have to haul it aloft, and especially when you can dump a large fraction of it as you go instead of having to expend energy to haul it all the way to your destination.

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