California start-up ZeroAvia plans hydrogen-fuelled, zero-emissions commercial flights by 2022
ZeroAvia's converted Piper M350
Tue 27 Aug 2019 – Silicon Valley start-up ZeroAvia claims its hydrogen-fuelled electric powertrain could be ready for zero-emission, 500-mile commercial regional flights capable of carrying 10 to 20 passengers by the early part of the next decade. The company, founded by cleantech entrepreneur and pilot Val Miftakhov, has already started flight testing its powertrain prototype on a Piper M-Class airframe following experimental R&D certification by the FAA earlier this year. At a 2-ton take-off weight and six seats in a business class arrangement, ZeroAvia says it is currently the world’s largest zero-emission aircraft flying without any fossil fuel support. From 2022, the company plans to lease the hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain through a power-by-the-hour arrangement to commercial operators purchasing new aircraft supplied by established manufacturers.
“With land transport rapidly decarbonising, fast-growing air transport is quickly becoming the leading emission source, so we must find ways to make aviation more sustainable,” said Miftakhov.
Making up nearly half of commercial flights worldwide, ZeroAvia is initially targeting 500-mile flights to serve the short-haul and commuter air travel markets.
“Using hydrogen produced from local renewable energy is the most practical way to enable zero-emission aircraft of commercially meaningful size on traditional 300 to 500-mile regional missions,” believes Miftakhov.
He said it would also be more economical than conventional turbine engines – or even battery-based systems – on a total cost basis. “We calculate the total costs of operating a ZeroAvia aircraft to be close to half of what it costs to fly a conventional turbine aircraft, due to lower fuel input costs, higher powertrain efficiency and reduced maintenance costs.”
The company said smaller zero-emission aircraft powered by its powertrains will be able to achieve similar per-seat economics as today’s large regional jets, allowing for economical use of smaller local airports for point-to-point travel. In addition to passenger transport, the powertrain is expected to have applications across other aircraft types, including manned and unmanned fixed-wing, rotorcraft and “everywhere in between”.
Formerly founder and CEO of smart grid electric vehicle charging company eMotorWerks, Miftakhov has formed a team from founding members of eMotorWerks and experts from Tesla, BMW, NVIDIA, Zee Aero, Air Liquide and SystemIQ.
An advisory and investment firm, SystemIQ was set up in 2016 “to drive the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals by transforming markets and business models in land use, materials and energy.” It has been supporting ZeroAvia for over a year and recently completed a financial investment to accelerate R&D and European expansion.
“ZeroAvia’s zero-emission drivetrain is the most promising, cost-effective alternative to incumbent fossil-based technologies today,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, founding partner at SystemIQ. “We are proud to be supporting ZeroAvia on their time-critical mission to decarbonize the aviation sector.”
Added SystemIQ’s Julian Renz: “The aviation and hydrogen industries have been waiting for their ‘Tesla moment’. When we met with Val, we thought: ‘This is it’. Our expertise and financial resources helped the innovation materialise during the difficult early stages.”
Zero-emission transportation is progressing rapidly to an inflection point, believes Miftakhov. “The technology exists today to decarbonise commercial aviation in a meaningful way and at ZeroAvia, we intend to lead that charge. 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.”
ZeroAvia’s maximum speed and power test took place in April 2019 in Hollister, California: