A new hydrogen company is reinventing the whole aircraft industry from the ground up. Universal Hydrogen Co., founded in 2020, is on a mission to make hydrogen aviation a near-term reality by transforming existing aircrafts to run on hydrogen fuel.
The company announced on February 7th it was granted a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to proceed with the first flight of its hydrogen-powered regional airplane.
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The flight will take place at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. The Dash 8-300 flying testbed will be the largest hydrogen fuel cell-powered airplane to ever fly, and second as hydrogen-powered aircraft to the Soviet flight test in 1988 of a Tupolev Tu-155 airliner.
Universal Hydrogen also tested successfully its first taxi flights, releasing video footage of the tests. The tests were designed to evaluate ground handling qualities and the performance of the fuel-cell electric powertrain at low power settings and airspeeds.
Universal Hydrogen’s first product is a conversion kit for existing regional aircraft to fly on hydrogen, starting with the ATR72 and the De Havilland Canada Dash-8. The conversion kit consists of a fuel cell electric powertrain that replaces the existing turboprop engines. The powertrain does not utilize a hybrid battery architecture and is transmitted directly to the electric motor, which significantly decreases the weight and lifecycle cost of a hydrogen aircraft.
Apart from aircraft conversion solution, the company offers a fuel service with hydrogen transported directly to the regional airlines. It supplies hydrogen to the fleet using a modular fueling approach that eliminates the need for costly new airport infrastructure, speeds up the fueling operation, and reduces transfer losses throughout the hydrogen delivery chain. According to Universal Hydrogen’s announcement, the approach allows any airport to become capable of handling cargo that is hydrogen-ready.
Along with these developments, Universal Hydrogen also announced it has signed a strategic agreement with Air New Zealand as part of the airline’s expanding Mission Next Gen Aircraft program. The company will become a long-term partner to Air New Zealand as New Zealand’s national carrier airline seeks to find sustainable solutions for its fleet.
According to the press release, on completion of testing and certification, Universal Hydrogen’s conversion kits could be installed in Air New Zealand’s regional fleet.
“Mission Next Gen Aircraft aims to accelerate the technology and infrastructure needed to decarbonize our domestic flights, by joining forces with the world’s leading aircraft developers, innovators, and infrastructure providers… Having Universal Hydrogen as one of our long-term partners will grow our collective understanding of zero emissions aircraft technology as it develops and will give them the confidence they are developing a product that’s well-suited for our fleet,” commented Air New Zealand’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kiri Hannifin.
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He also added that the airline has bold sustainability goals and they won’t be met by a “business as usual” approach. Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen also commented on the milestone saying they expect other airlines to follow in Air New Zealand’s footsteps toward a true zero emissions solution for their fleets.
The company is also excited to be selected alongside Air New Zealand’s other long-term partners from the program like Airbus, ATR, Embraer, and Heart Aerospace.