Hydrogen Propulsion Innovations Are Transforming Aircrafts and Air-Mobility in 2023

September 21, 2023

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Piasecki Aircraft Corporation's Hydrogen-Electric Prototype

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation received a $20 million contract from the US Air Force to develop a hydrogen-electric prototype aircraft. The aircraft is expected to fly in 2025.

Doosan Mobility Innovation's Commercial Hydrogen-Electric Drone

Doosan Mobility Innovation launched its first commercial hydrogen-electric drone. The drone has a range of 1,000 kilometers and can carry a payload of 100 kilograms.

H3 Dynamics' Commercial Hydrogen-Electric Helicopter

H3 Dynamics launched its first commercial hydrogen-electric helicopter. The helicopter has a range of 200 kilometers and can carry a payload of 50 kilograms.

In addition to these launches, there have been a number of other significant developments in the aircraft fuel cell industry in 2023. For example, several companies have announced plans to build hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing plants. Additionally, a number of airlines have announced plans to purchase hydrogen-electric aircraft.

These developments suggest that the aircraft fuel cell industry is rapidly gaining momentum. As the technology continues to mature and costs come down, it is expected to play an increasingly important role in the decarbonization of the aviation industry.

MarketsandMarkets welcomes these developments and we take a look at the details here.


Airbus' Strategic Innovation through ZeroAvia

Airbus has strategically invested in ZeroAvia, a pioneer in developing hydrogen propulsion, joining other investors like Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital and Saudi Arabia’s Neom. The investment amount remains undisclosed, but it is known to be the largest financing round for ZeroAvia to date, surpassing their Series A and B which were $56 million and $72 million respectively.

Collaboration and Development

Airbus and ZeroAvia are collaborating to streamline certification processes for hydrogen power systems and to co-develop crucial technologies. This includes the development of liquid hydrogen storage, fuel cell propulsion systems testing (both ground and flight), and the establishment of hydrogen refueling infrastructure and operations. ZeroAvia is progressing its 600-kW ZA600 hydrogen-electric powertrain towards certification and is also working on the development of larger powertrains and high-temperature fuel cells.

Market Entry and Future Goals

ZeroAvia aims for market entry in 2025 with a retrofit for the Cessna Caravan, having completed initial flight tests with a ZA600 powertrain demonstrator in a Dornier 228 testbed. Airbus, under its ZEROe initiative, is working on technologies for hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft, targeting service entry by 2035, and plans to test a megawatt-class fuel cell engine on an A380 testbed in 2026.

Validation and Ecosystem Development

The investment by Airbus is seen as a strong validation for hydrogen-electric propulsion technology. ZeroAvia is not only advancing in propulsion technology but is also contributing to the development of a wider hydrogen ecosystem for aviation, focusing on decarbonized hydrogen supply and certification of hydrogen propulsion systems, aligning well with Airbus’s ambition to introduce a ZEROe hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035.

Diverse Investment Portfolio

ZeroAvia has attracted investments from a diverse group of investors including airlines like Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines, and other entities like Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, AP Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Shell Ventures, reflecting a broad interest and belief in the potential of hydrogen-electric propulsion technology in the aviation sector.

This development is pivotal for the aircraft fuel cell industry, marking a significant step towards the realization of hydrogen-powered aviation. The collaboration between Airbus and ZeroAvia is likely to accelerate the development and adoption of hydrogen-electric propulsion technologies, addressing the urgent need for sustainable and eco-friendly aviation solutions. The diverse investment portfolio and the collaborative efforts to develop a hydrogen ecosystem underscore the industry's commitment to achieving decarbonization in aviation.


What is ZeroAvia?

ZeroAvia is a pioneering company in the aerospace industry, focusing on developing hydrogen-electric engines for aircraft to achieve zero-emission flight. It was founded in 2017 by Valery Miftakhov, who also serves as the CEO, and has its headquarters in the United States. ZeroAvia is a British/American entity and has been at the forefront of innovating sustainable aviation solutions, aiming to replace conventional engines in propeller aircraft with hydrogen-fueled powertrain technology.


ZeroAvia was established with the vision of mitigating the environmental impact of aviation, which is a rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s mission is to enable truly clean flight by replacing conventional aircraft engines with hydrogen-electric powertrains, considering hydrogen's superior specific energy and lower cycling costs compared to lithium-ion batteries.


ZeroAvia is developing hydrogen-electric engines that offer significant advantages, including 90% lower life cycle emissions and 40% lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to turbines. The company's powertrain uses hydrogen stored onboard in lightweight tanks and converts it into electricity through fuel cells, emitting only water and heat as by-products. ZeroAvia is working on various models like the ZA600 and ZA2000, targeting different aircraft sizes and ranges.


ZeroAvia has formed several strategic partnerships to advance its hydrogen-electric propulsion technology. It has collaborated with Alaska Airlines to develop the ZA-2000 hydrogen-electric powertrain for 76-seat regional aircraft. Additionally, partnerships with De Havilland Canada and Textron Aviation are aimed at integrating ZeroAvia’s technology into existing aircraft models like the DHC-8 and Cessna Grand Caravan. In 2022, a partnership with Otto Aviation was announced to build a hydrogen-powered version of the Otto Celera 500L aircraft.

Funding Rounds:

ZeroAvia has successfully raised substantial funding through various rounds, including a $21.4 million Series A financing in 2020, led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Ecosystem Integrity Fund. In 2021, it secured $24.3 million in a second round of Series A financing and $35 million in Series B financing. The latest funding round in September 2023 saw Airbus as a lead investor, along with other investors like Neom Investment Fund, Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, and Alaska Airlines. This round is particularly significant as it also involves collaboration with Airbus on certification and technical aspects of ZeroAvia’s technology.


What is ZeroAvia’s Product?

Current Developments:

ZeroAvia has been actively testing its technology, with successful high-power runs of the ZA-600 hydrogen aircraft engine and plans for commercial-scale hydrogen-electric-powered flights. The company aims to have a certifiable configuration by 2025 and is planning a series of test flights to validate its technology. ZeroAvia is not only contributing to the development of green aviation technology but is also shaping the future of sustainable air travel with its innovative hydrogen-electric propulsion systems.


How Fuel Cell Innovations are Shaping Up

Fuel cells are emerging as a versatile energy solution in the aviation sector, serving various functions and contributing to the development of cleaner and more efficient aircraft. Here’s a consolidated piece, removing duplicates and forming a coherent content piece:


Fuel Cells in Aviation

Fuel cells are gaining prominence in aircraft, serving multiple purposes such as propulsion, auxiliary power units (APU), and onboard hydrogen storage. They power electric motors to drive propellers or fans in both small drones and large commercial airliners. When the main engines are off, fuel cells provide power to the aircraft's systems more efficiently and cleanly than traditional jet engines as APUs. Additionally, they store hydrogen onboard, extending the range of electric aircraft or powering hydrogen-fueled combustion engines.


Who has invested in ZeroAvia?

The aviation industry is witnessing a transformative phase with the advent of hydrogen-electric propulsion technologies, and several investment entities are contributing to this evolution by supporting innovative companies like ZeroAvia. ZeroAvia, a pioneer in developing hydrogen-electric powertrain solutions, has attracted investments from a diverse group of companies, each bringing unique perspectives and resources to foster advancements in sustainable aviation.

  1. Neom Investment Fund: based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, focuses on investments in sectors like energy, water, biotech, and food.
  2. Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital: headquartered in London, UK, is an environmentally-focused initiative by Barclays.
  3. Alaska Airlines: a proponent of sustainable aviation fuels and innovative technologies, headquartered in SeaTac, Washington.
  4. Horizons Ventures: based in Hong Kong, known for investments in disruptive and technology-focused startups.
  5. Breakthrough Energy Ventures: a private venture capital firm founded by Bill Gates, focusing on innovative technologies in the energy sector.
  6. Ecosystem Integrity Fund: based in San Francisco, California, focuses on companies contributing to environmental sustainability.

These entities recognize the potential in ZeroAvia’s groundbreaking hydrogen-electric technology. Their investments reflect a shared vision for a sustainable aviation future, highlighting the global and multifaceted interest in cleaner skies.


Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital

Headquartered City/Country: London, United Kingdom

About Them: Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital is an initiative by Barclays, aiming to invest in environmentally-focused early-stage technology companies. It seeks to support the development of carbon-efficient technologies and viable markets for carbon capture and sequestration.

Where Do They Invest: The initiative focuses on companies developing solutions for carbon capture, energy efficiency, and other environmentally sustainable technologies, aiming to leverage Barclays resources to support green financing.

History and Approach Note: Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital is part of Barclays' commitment to addressing climate change. It emphasizes building impactful companies through growth capital and dynamic collaboration, leveraging Barclays' resources to support the commercialization of opportunities.


Alaska Airlines

Headquartered City/Country: Alaska Airlines is headquartered in SeaTac, Washington, USA.

About Them: Alaska Airlines, a major American airline, is the fifth-largest airline in North America by scheduled passengers carried. Founded in 1932 as McGee Airways, it operates out of five hubs and is a member of Oneworld, the third-largest airline alliance in the world.

Where Do They Invest: Alaska Airlines primarily focuses on investments in its fleet and services, connecting cities along the West Coast of the United States to various destinations.

History: Originating from McGee Airways in 1932, Alaska Airlines went through several transformations before adopting its current name in 1944. Despite facing financial struggles and competition, it introduced several innovations and continues to focus on customer service and operational efficiency.

Brief Approach Note: Alaska Airlines prioritizes customer satisfaction and has been recognized multiple times for its services. It has pioneered in adopting technologies to enhance customer convenience and continues to focus on sustainability and expanding its services.


Horizons Ventures

Headquartered City/Country: Horizons Ventures is headquartered in Hong Kong.

About Them: Horizons Ventures, a venture capital firm founded by Li Ka-shing, focuses on investing in disruptive and technology-focused start-ups. It is renowned for its early investments in companies like Facebook, Spotify, and Siri.

Where Do They Invest: Horizons Ventures invests globally in innovative companies in sectors like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, healthcare, and biotechnology, seeking companies with transformative potential.

History: Horizons Ventures has gained recognition for its early and successful investments in technology sector leaders, characterized by its risk-taking and ability to identify high growth potential companies early in their development.

Brief Approach Note: Horizons Ventures is known for its strategic and forward-thinking investment approach, focusing on companies poised to redefine industries through innovative technologies and solutions. The firm continues to explore investment opportunities in emerging technologies, committed to fostering innovation and driving technological advancements.


Breakthrough Energy Ventures

Headquartered City/Country: Breakthrough Energy Ventures is headquartered in Kirkland, Washington, USA.

About Them: Breakthrough Energy Ventures is a private venture capital firm founded by Bill Gates in 2015. It operates under the umbrella name of Breakthrough Energy and aims to accelerate innovation in sustainable energy and other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Where Do They Invest: Breakthrough Energy Ventures invests globally in businesses where the risk of failure is high and the timeframe for return on investment is 20 years. It primarily focuses on companies developing renewable technologies, including wind and solar.

History: Breakthrough Energy was announced in 2015 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference with a coalition of 28 high net-worth investors from ten countries committing to the initiative. In December 2016, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a US$1 billion fund, was formed focusing on clean energy innovation to fight climate change.

Brief Approach Note: Breakthrough Energy Ventures adopts a strategic and discerning investment approach, focusing on groundbreaking technologies in the energy sector. The firm is spearheaded by influential figures like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg and continues to explore and invest in transformative energy technologies.


Ecosystem Integrity Fund

Headquartered City/Country: The Ecosystem Integrity Fund (EIF) is headquartered in San Francisco, California, USA.

About Them: The Ecosystem Integrity Fund is an early growth stage investor focusing on companies contributing to environmental sustainability. It aims to use private capital to accelerate the transition to sustainability, resulting in a healthier planet, healthier communities, and strong economic growth.

Where Do They Invest: EIF invests in companies that are making significant contributions to environmental sustainability, focusing on sectors like renewable energy, electric vehicles, distributed energy, and sustainable and smart agriculture.

History: The Ecosystem Integrity Fund has been instrumental in supporting the movement toward environmental sustainability, aiming to make incremental improvements to the largest industries in the world.

Brief Approach Note: EIF’s mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainability using private capital. It believes in the transformative power of sustainability on the economy and aims to be at the forefront of this transformation by investing in companies that are leading the way in environmental sustainability.


Fuel Cell Innovations and Investments in 2023

  1. ZeroAvia: Secured $238 million in funding to develop hydrogen-electric engines for aircraft from investors like Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, and Horizons Ventures.
  2. Intelligent Energy: Developing fuel cell systems for zero-emission aircraft, drones, and other unmanned aerial vehicles, with partnerships with Airbus and support from Airbus Ventures, HydrogenOne Capital, and BAE Systems.
  3. Piasecki Aircraft Corporation: Received a $20 million contract from the US Air Force to develop a hydrogen-electric prototype aircraft with investments from Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
  4. Doosan Mobility Innovation: Launched its first commercial hydrogen-electric drone, supported by investments from Doosan Corporation and Korea Investment Partners.
  5. H3 Dynamics: Introduced its first commercial hydrogen-electric helicopter, backed by Airbus Ventures, Horizons Ventures, and Temasek.

These developments indicate the rapid advancements and growing investments in the aircraft fuel cell industry in 2023, which is still in its nascent stages but is poised for substantial growth, driven by the quest for cleaner and more efficient energy solutions in aviation.


Curated: Insights on Hydrogen Propulsion from MarketsandMarkets

The Aircraft Fuel Cells Market is experiencing significant growth, driven by advancements in technology and the rising demand for fuel-efficient aircraft. Fuel cells are a crucial component in aircraft, converting chemical energy into electrical energy, and are considered a cleaner and more efficient alternative to conventional energy sources.

Market Segmentation

The market is segmented based on

  1. Type: Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Solid Oxide Fuel Cells, etc.
  2. Application: Commercial, Military, and UAVs.
  3. Region: North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and RoW.

Key Players

Several key players operate in the market, contributing to the market's development through innovations and expansions. These include Ballard Power Systems, Hydrogenics, and UTC Power, among others.

Market Dynamics:

Drivers: The market is driven by the increasing demand for fuel-efficient and emission-free aircraft and the growing emphasis on the use of lightweight materials in aircraft manufacturing.

Challenges: High costs associated with the development and maintenance of fuel cells and stringent regulatory frameworks are some challenges faced by the market.

Market Forecast

The report provides a comprehensive forecast of the market, highlighting potential growth opportunities and emerging trends. It emphasizes the importance of fuel cells in reducing carbon emissions and enhancing fuel efficiency in aircraft.

The Aircraft Fuel Cells Market is poised for substantial growth due to technological advancements and the rising need for eco-friendly and efficient energy solutions in the aviation industry. However, the market faces challenges such as high development costs and regulatory constraints.

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Groundbreaking Contracts

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation received a $20 million contract from the US Air Force to develop a hydrogen-electric prototype aircraft. The aircraft is expected to fly in 2025.

Pivotal development for the aircraft fuel cell industry

Airbus plans to test a megawatt-class fuel cell engine on an A380 testbed in 2026 and, with ZeroAvia it aims for market entry in 2025 with a retrofit for the Cessna Caravan.


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