Kerosene-consuming passenger and cargo aircraft alike could easily contribute to cleaner skies if retrofitted with hydrogen fuel cell powertrains implemented in the aft section, claims
Universal Hydrogen Co.
Is this promise just a marketing gimmick to produce headlines and become better known, or is it a realistic perspective? Some hard facts speak for the latter.
Above all, it is the fact that well-known names have committed themselves to the project. Such as the two Advisory Board bigwigs, Tom Enders and John Leahy, both former Airbus celebrities, who
have a track record regarding integrity and reliability. In addition, the 5 executive board members, Paul Eremenko (CEO), Rod Williams (CCO), Jason Chua (Strategy / Products), Jon Gordon (General
Counsel / Head of Government Affairs & Partnerships), and John-Paul Clarke (CTO), enjoy an excellent reputation in the aviation world and are considered drivers of new developments.
The business idea they pursue consists of a complementary dual approach: filling hydrogen in modular capsules, and transporting them as containerized freight across the globe to wherever needed to power aircraft. Simultaneously, Universal Hydrogen engineers have developed a conversion kit to retrofit existing planes with a hydrogen-electric powertrain “improving both performance and costs”, states the company.
To start with, both passenger planes and freighter turboprops with limited range shall be retrofitted to be propelled by hydrogen instead of kerosene. The concept foresees attaching the hydrogen fuel cells in the rear section of an aircraft and connecting them with the engines via a piping system. After landing or on stopovers, the H2 capsules can be quickly replaced by full tanks, provided a dense refilling network is established.
To push the project forward, Universal Hydrogen has chosen Toulouse, France, to establish a second engineering and design center, following its decision to select Venice, California, as its headquarters. “We have come to Toulouse because its resources, its engineering talent, suppliers, and manufacturing base, as well as its spirit of innovation are unparalleled,” the company states in a release. Universal Hydrogen has leased the historic Hangar B16 at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, and appointed Airbus veteran, Pierre Farjounel as General Manager of its European operations. Its new center will initially focus on the development of a liquid hydrogen capsule for Universal Hydrogen’s modular storage and logistics system. As it grows over the course of 2022, the engineering center will also support the development of conversion kits to retrofit regional aircraft with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, as well as the development of modular hydrogen storage technology for single aisle, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and other applications.
“Decarbonizing aviation in a timeframe to meet Paris Agreement targets, the importance of which has been further underscored by the recent and devastating IPCC report, demands a global effort, including the best and brightest aviation has to offer,” Mr. Farjounel emphasized.
Carole Delga, President of the Occitanic Region, warmly welcomed the investor’s pro-Toulouse decision, since it will contribute to the ongoing development of zero-carbon aviation and hydrogen energy production. “The deployment of hydrogen is a priority for the Occitanic Region, which recently launched a green hydrogen development plan for the period 2019-2030, with a budget of €150 million. Universal Hydrogen will benefit from a unique ecosystem in the Occitanie Region, to further develop its expertise and become a key global player in the effort to decarbonize aviation,” Ms. Delga stated.
It can be expected that Toulouse was also chosen by Universal Hydrogen because it is the site of the largest production plant established by Airbus. Only recently, the European plane maker committed to deploying the first hydrogen powered aircraft by 2035.
Meanwhile, the H2 newcomer has signed letters of intent to supply green hydrogen fuel services to Anchorage-based Corvus Airlines, widely known as Ravn Alaska, Valencia-headquartered Air Nostrum, and the Reykjavík-based Icelandair Group. Financial terms of the three deals were not made public.
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