HyPoint, a company developing turbo air-cooled hydrogen-fuel-cell systems for aviation and urban air mobility, entered into a multi-phase collaborative development agreement with Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC), a pioneer in advanced rotorcraft and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) platforms and technologies, for the development and certification of a hydrogen fuel cell system for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle applications.
The initial $6.5-million agreement will culminate in the development of five 650 kW hydrogen fuel cell systems for use in Piasecki’s eVTOL PA-890 Compound Helicopter, which is expected to be the world’s first manned hydrogen-powered helicopter.
The partnership’s objective is to deliver a customizable, FAA-certified, hydrogen-fuel-cell system to the global eVTOL marketplace. The system will offer eVTOL makers four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries; twice the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel cell systems; and up to a 50% reduction in direct operating costs relative to turbine-powered rotorcraft.
Piasecki will gain exclusive license to the technology created as part of the partnership; HyPoint will maintain ownership of its underlying hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Piasecki and HyPoint intend to make the new system available to eVTOL makers by customizing it for use in their vehicles. Alternatively, eVTOL makers may choose to partner with HyPoint and Piasecki to develop a new system based on their specific needs.
HyPoint’s approach—its core innovation—is a new turbo air-cooling architecture. By utilizing compressed air for both cooling and oxygen supply, HyPoint reduces overall weight compared with traditional liquid cooling.
HyPoint is also using a next-generation high temperature membrane (HTPEM) instead of a low temperature membrane (LTPEM), which increases the efficiency of a cooling system by at least 300%.
Testing has shown that HyPoint’s fuel cell system will be able to achieve up to 2 kW kg-1 of specific power—more than triple the power-to-weight ratio of traditional (liquid-cooled) hydrogen fuel cells systems. It will also feature up to 1,500 Wh kg-1 of energy density, enabling longer-distance journeys.
In December 2020, HyPoint was named a winner of NASA’s iTech Initiative, in which breakthrough technologies were ranked based on criteria that included technical viability, benefits to humanity, and commercialization potential. HyPoint‘s aviation applications—including eVTOL, UAS, personal air vehicles, and electric aircraft—were considered to be especially innovative.
The global eVTOL market size is forecasted to grow from an estimated $74 million in 2025 to $860 million by 2030, according to new market research. In the first few months of 2021 alone, $5 billion of investments were announced in the sector to Archer Aviation, Eve, Joby Aviation, Lilium, and Vertical Aerospace.
In January 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it was engaged with manufacturers of more than 15 eVTOL aircraft. EHang, Volocopter, Joby Aviation, and Lilium are among those who have signaled their intent to launch commercial passenger operations within the next three to five years. Other players include major aircraft companies such as Airbus and Boeing.
The global hydrogen aircraft market is anticipated to grow from an estimated $27 billion in 2030 to $174 billion by 2040, according to Allied Market Research.
Piasecki is currently working with the FAA to outline certification criteria, as well as with the United States Air Force, by way of its AFWERX STTR/SBIR program, which is co-investing in the development of advanced hydrogen-powered aeronautical technology.
We are laser-focused on the development and qualification of a 650kW system for our PA-890 eVTOL Compound Helicopter, which would be the world’s first manned hydrogen-powered helicopter. Success will pave the way for collaboration with other eVTOL OEMs with different platform sizes to ensure broad application of this technology.
Initial lab testing funded by Piasecki last winter demonstrated the technical viability of HyPoint’s hydrogen fuel cell system. While we are benchmarking HyPoint’s technology against alternatives and continue to rigorously test and validate findings, we are very optimistic. Our objective is to develop full-scale systems within two years to support on-aircraft certification testing in 2024 and fulfill existing customer orders for up to 325 units starting in 2025.—John Piasecki, President and CEO of Piasecki
HyPoint’s flagship turbo air-cooled hydrogen high-temperature proton-exchange membrane (HTPEM) fuel cell system is the result of patented innovations including lightweight bipolar plates, a highly conductive corrosion-resistant coating, and an industry-first air cooling and oxygen supply system. Together these technologies enable a lightweight, climate-independent, extended-lifespan fuel system and increase operational time and utilization rate while decreasing total cost of ownership by as much as 50% relative to turbine-powered rotorcraft.