Hydrogen-powered planes take off with startup’s test flight

Aviation accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry is growing quickly. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050, the demands of flying are difficult to achieve without fossil fuels. 

Hydrogen fuel cells represent one possible route that some companies hope can help reduce emissions from the aviation industry, but to make significant cuts, the technology would need to be scaled up to power relatively large aircraft.

“This is putting us straight on the path to commercial launches,” said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia founder and CEO, in a press conference announcing the results of the test flight. 

ZeroAvia has raised over $140 million in funding from investors, including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates’s energy venture fund. The company has also received over 1500 pre-orders from customers for its hydrogen fuel-cell systems, according to Miftakhov.

The startup has been flying test flights for several years with smaller planes, with varying degrees of success. In 2021, one was forced to land and the plane was damaged after the battery backup system was shut off. With only the hydrogen fuel cells running, the plane lost power to its electrical motors. 

The battery system supported the recent January 2023 test flight of the 19-seat plane, which was delayed from summer 2022. Batteries supplied about 50% of the power to the left side of the aircraft for the whole flight, with the hydrogen fuel cell system supplying the other 50%. 

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