Editorial Feature

ZeroAvia’s Hydrogen-Fueled Powertrain for Zero-Emission Aircraft

ZeroAvia has developed a hydrogen-fueled powertrain to enable zero-emission aviation. Image Credit:  Denis Belitsky/Shutterstock.com

ZeroAvia, a leader in zero-emission aviation, has introduced the world’s first practical emission-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make air travel sustainable.

The decarbonized aviation solution will be offered to a range of markets, starting with the 500-mile, short-haul and commuter regional flights that make up almost half of all commercial flights worldwide. The project aims to provide the same performance as conventional jet-fueled transport, but with zero emissions and at half of today’s operational costs.

Zero-Emission Aviation Powertrain to Take-Off in 2022

ZeroAvia, which plans to start supplying its powertrain to commercial operators and aircraft manufacturers in 2022, started testing the prototype in February. The company has received £5.3 million in government funding for its “HyFlyer” project to demonstrate the technology’s use for aviation. The project will culminate in the demonstration of a test flight in a six-seat Piper M-Class airframe out of Orkney in the UK.

ZeroAvia was founded by cleantech entrepreneur Val Miftakhov, who previously set up a smart grid electrical engineering company called eMotorWerks. Founding members of eMotorWerks have formed the key leadership group for ZeroAvia, with members including SystemIQ, alumni from Tesla, Air Liquide, BMW, Zee Aero and NVIDIA.

Cleaner Aviation Technologies are Urgently Needed

According to Miftakhov, air transport is quickly becoming the leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and sustainable aviation technologies are urgently needed.

Founding Partner at SYSTEMIQ, Jeremy Oppenheim, says aviation is the fastest-growing source of transport emissions and is set to nearly double by 2050 under current trends. GHGs released at altitude are particularly damaging, he adds, so it is vital to develop and scale zero-emission alternatives.

The UK’s Net-Zero Targets

Following recommendations made by the Committee on Climate Change, the UK government set a target of net-zero GHG emissions in the UK by 2050. This came into legislation in June 2019 as an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2018 target of reducing GHG emissions by 80%, compared with 1990 levels.

"ZeroAvia's zero-emission drivetrain is the most promising, cost-competitive alternative to incumbent fossil-based technologies today. SYSTEMIQ is proud to be supporting ZeroAvia on their time-critical mission to decarbonize the aviation sector," says Oppenheim.

Decarbonizing Aircraft Technologies

ZeroAvia plans to decarbonize small passenger aircraft by replacing piston engines in propeller aircraft with the new powertrain technology, which includes hydrogen fuel cells, electric motors and gas storage.

As part of the initiative, ZeroAvia is collaborating with some of the most innovative and advanced technology, manufacturing, energy and aviation companies in the UK.

Market leader in fuel cell engineering, Intelligent Energy, will optimize the evaporative fuel cell technology for aviation applications.

Project partner European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) Hydrogen, which makes green hydrogen from renewable wind and tidal energy, will supply the hydrogen used for the test flight in Orkney, with a view to eventually replicating this across other airports. EMEC Hydrogen will also develop a mobile refueling platform that will be compatible for use with the plane.

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions will help ZeroAvia integrate the powertrain technology into the Piper airframe and host the flight demonstration at their hangar facilities.

ZeroAvia will also collaborate with Cranfield University, one of the world’s leading aerospace universities.

Aviation Emissions One of the Fastest-Growing Sources of Emissions

Aircraft emissions represent one of the fastest-growing sources of GHGs, accounting for around 3% of Europe’s total GHG emissions and more than 2% of emissions worldwide. A return flight from London to New York generates approximately the same amount of emissions as an average person does in Europe if they heat their house for a whole year.

Internationally, global emissions are predicted to be around 70% higher in 2020 than they were in 2005, and, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, aviation emissions could increase by a further 300-700% by 2050. Aircraft emissions also differ from other sources of emissions because their high altitude has a stronger environmental impact.

Is Hydrogen-Based Technology in Aviation the Answer?

Miftakhov says that using hydrogen produced from local, clean renewable energy is the most effective way to enable zero-emission flights during commercial 300 to 500-mile regional travel. Hydrogen-based systems would also be more economical than turbine engines, with greater efficacy, lower fuel input and lower maintenance, meaning a ZeroAvia system would be 50% cheaper to operate than a conventional turbine aircraft.

The net-zero by 2050 target set by the UK government would mean that the country’s total GHG emissions would be equal to or lower than the emissions removed from the environment. Emissions from the transport industry, households and other industries, including manufacturing and agriculture, would need to be further reduced to reach net-zero.

Powered by the ZeroAvia system, smaller zero-emission aircraft would allow economical use of smaller local airports for regional travel with virtually no delays and a better flying experience overall. In addition to air travel, the ZeroAvia powertrain could be applied to operations in other industries such as agriculture and cargo, as well as across different types of aircraft.

Transport is a Leading Polluter

In the US, transport generates one-third of CO2 emissions, and, in 2016, it overtook coal-burning emissions to become the leading polluter.

In the UK, transport accounts for one-quarter of GHG emissions, as indicated in the graphic below from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy based on 2016 data:

ImageForArticle_1006_15753854762462781.jpg

Hydrogen Aircraft Test Flights

ZeroAvia has already demonstrated the hydrogen powertrain technology during flight tests held in the US and has now set up a base in Cranfield, UK, where it will collaborate with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions to certify the technology. The aim is to eventually conduct a 250-300 nautical mile test flight out of an airbase in Orkney.

Our project goal of 300 NM is equivalent to the distance from London to Edinburgh and will prove that zero emission aviation, powered by hydrogen, can play a key role within the UK and other countries’ transport strategies – enabling net zero targets to be met and improving productivity and regional prosperity,” says Miftakhov.

Video Source:  Val Miftakhov/YouTube.com

Conclusion

Air travel accounts for more than 12% of overall transport emissions and is growing at a rate that will mean the current emission level will be doubled by 2050.

​The high altitude of aviation emissions means they have two to four times the environmental impact of emissions released at ground level.  

Short-haul regional flights are important to address since about half of aviation emissions are generated by flights shorter than 1000 miles. Regulators around the world are calling for the aviation industry to make significant reductions to emission levels, with the European Union pushing for a four-fold decrease in COand a 10-fold decrease in nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 2050.

Large airports with big aircraft experience increasing congestion, longer waiting times and greater security overheads than smaller airports with smaller aircraft. Transitioning to zero-emission air travel and more point-to-point, regional travel will help to resolve these issues.

Having a fleet of smaller aircraft that fly between small airports would significantly reduce aviation emissions, congestion and security delays.

The technology exists today to decarbonize commercial aviation in a meaningful way, and at ZeroAvia, we intend to lead that charge,” says Mitakhov. “With governments around the world calling for a shift towards clean transportation, and predictions that air travel frequency will increase in the future, it is imperative for us as an industry to ensure sustainable aviation is cleared for take-off.

References and Further Reading

HYFLYER ZERO-EMISSION AIRCRAFT FLIGHT TESTS SET FOR ORKNEY. EMEC 2019. Available at: http://www.emec.org.uk/press-release-hyflyer-zero-emission-aircraft-flight-tests-set-for-orkney/

ZeroAvia Emerges from Stealth with the Largest Zero-Emission Airplane Flying Today. CISION. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/zeroavia-emerges-from-stealth-with-the-largest-zero-emission-airplane-flying-today-300901284.html

ZeroAvia Announces £2.7m UK Government Grant for the Development of Zero Emission Aviation. Intelligent Energy 2019. Available at: https://www.intelligent-energy.com/news-and-events/company-news/2019/09/18/zeroavia-announces-27m-uk-government-grant-for-the-development-of-zero-emission-aviation/

Our Mission: Accelerate the World’s Transition to Sustainable Aviation. ZeroAvia 2019. Available at: https://www.zeroavia.com/

ZeroAvia introduces hydrogen-fuelled powertrain. Aerospace Manufacturing 2019. Available at: https://www.aero-mag.com/zeroavia-introduces-hydrogen-fuelled-powertrain/

Road transport and air emissions. Office for National Statistics 2019. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/roadtransportandairemissions/2019-09-16

Net zero and the different official measures of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. Office for National Statistics 2019. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/netzeroandthedifferentofficialmeasuresoftheuksgreenhousegasemissions/2019-07-24

Aircraft Engine Emissions. ICAO. Available at:https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Pages/aircraft-engine-emissions.aspx

Emissions. EASA. Available at: https://www.easa.europa.eu/eaer/topics/overview-aviation-sector/emissions

Facts & Figures. ATAG: Available at: https://www.atag.org/facts-figures.html

Reducing emissions from aviation. European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/aviation_en

UK greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2018. Available at: https://www.raconteur.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/UK-greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-sector.jpg

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