6 Startups Shaping the Booming Hydrogen Aircraft Market
- Some aviation startups are betting that hydrogen is the future of green flight.
- The increase in air traffic and the global drive to reduce aviation-related emissions are driving the industry.
- ZeroAvia and H2Fly are among the startups helping to shape the hydrogen aircraft industry.
Although many aviation startups are focused on creating battery-powered planes to fuel the journey to a zero-emissions future, some are banking on a technology they believe is better suited for flying high: hydrogen. .
As a result, the global hydrogen aircraft market is expected to reach $23.7 billion by 2030 and $144.5 billion by 2040, according to Allied Market Research.
An increase in air traffic and a global push to reduce aviation-related emissions are major drivers for the growth of the hydrogen aircraft market. The most abundant element in the world, hydrogen can power an aircraft either by burning in an internal combustion engine or by generating electricity via a fuel cell.
Hydrogen is attractive not only because it lowers carbon emissions compared to jet fuel, but because fuel cells don’t add massive weight to an aircraft like batteries do. That weight is one of the main reasons why experts don’t expect to see a battery-powered long-haul jetliner anytime soon.
Burning hydrogen could reduce the climate impact of aviation by 50-75%, and hydrogen fuel cells could reduce that impact by 75-90%, according to a study by joint ventures Clean Sky 2 and Fuel Cells & Hydrogen 2. Both joint ventures are European Union initiatives to reduce aviation emissions and accelerate fuel cell and hydrogen technology.
In contrast, hydrogen is expensive to produce and handle. It also requires a lot more storage space than kerosene, which means a hydrogen plane would either have to carry fewer people to make enough room to store the fuel, or be a much bigger plane than those currently on the market. It would also require significant investment in the creation of hydrogen infrastructure, according to the US Department of Energy.
Additionally, large-scale hydrogen production may also not be entirely environmentally friendly. Most of the hydrogen used today is made from fossil fuels, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, releasing carbon dioxide and adding to the greenhouse effect. It can be made from water in a process called electrolysis, but the method is expensive, energy-intensive, and infrequently used. Depending on the source of electricity, it might also release some emissions.
The benefits of hydrogen in aviation will likely first be seen in long-haul flights, while the batteries will power short-haul journeys. Here are six startups that are helping shape the growing hydrogen aviation industry.
AeroDelft was founded in 2017 by students from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands with the mission to develop the world’s first liquid hydrogen aircraft. He created the Phoenix, an aircraft with a liquid hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system that he says will be able to fly for seven hours on one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of liquid hydrogen. The first flight of its full-size model of the Phoenix is expected to take place this summer.
HyPoint is a Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup founded in 2019 that has developed what it calls a turbo-air cooled hydrogen fuel cell system. It was founded by Alex Ivanenko, Brian Benicewicz, John Vogel, Rhonda Staudt, Sergey Panov and Sergey Shubenkov. The company says its fuel cell system reduces weight compared to traditional liquid cooling and is ideal for drones, air taxis and fixed-wing aircraft.
H2Fly is a German startup founded in 2015 that is developing a hydrogen-electric powertrain for use in a range of aircraft, from air taxis to regional jets. He created the HY4, a four-seat demonstration aircraft, and in 2021 signed a partnership with Deutsche Aircraft to create a hydrogen-powered Dornier 328, a 40-seat aircraft that can fly up to 1,240 miles by 2025.
Joby Aviation, founded in 2009 in Santa Cruz, California by JoeBen Bevirt, is the best-funded electric aviation startup and a leader in the eVTOL market, planning to begin commercial operations of its air taxi service in 2024. In 2021, Joby announced a partnership with JetBlue Airways and Signature Flight Support to encourage airlines to commercialize clean propulsion systems, including hydrogen propulsion.
Universal Hydrogen is a Hawthorne, California-based startup founded in 2020 that has developed a distribution network that transports hydrogen from production sites to airports using existing freight networks. The capsules containing the hydrogen can be loaded directly onto an aircraft using existing cargo handling equipment, so no new infrastructure needs to be built. The startup – which is backed by JetBlue Technology Ventures and Airbus Ventures – is also developing conversion kits to allow existing aircraft engines to be retrofitted with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. The company plans to be in zero-emissions passenger service by 2025 and in freight service soon after.
ZeroAvia is a Hollister, California-based startup founded in 2017 by CEO Valery Miftakhov. The company has developed a hydrogen-electric propulsion system that can be retrofitted to existing fixed-wing aircraft, which ZeroAvia says reduces regulatory hurdles and the time it will take for the aircraft to reach market. It plans to have its first hydrogen-electric commercial aircraft ready for operation in 2024, and a 200-plus-seat aircraft ready by 2040.