A clean-energy startup successfully tested the largest hydrogen energy cell ever installed into an aircraft—proving the technology could revolutionize the airline industry.
- As we previously reported, Universal Hydrogen is a California-based company working on retrofitting regional twin-engine airplanes and putting them in service by 2025.
- On March 2, the company successfully tested “Lightning McClean,” the nickname of a two-engineer modified Dash-8 aircraft flown out of Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington.
- The plane was partially powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, an emission-free engine that converts hydrogen into water vapor and electricity, and flew for 15 minutes.
Why It’s Important
The push to reduce carbon emissions from air travel has been a priority for climate change activists, as it reportedly contributes 2.5% of all carbon emissions. While some activists have advocated reducing the scale of the airline industry overall, the use of these alternative fuels is already something that global politicians are subsidizing as an alternative.
The Inflation Reduction Act sets aside tax credits for sustainable aviation fuels that produce low emissions. Researcher group Rhodium Group says that these fuels could be an effective means of transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Multiple industries have already begun testing hydrogen-powered vehicles in the past year. Rolls-Royce is experimenting with hydrogen-powered jet engines. Canadian Pacific and other passenger railroads in North America and Europe have started testing and purchasing hydrogen locomotives.
Universal Hydrogen has ambitions of revolutionizing regional transportation with its hydrogen technology, allowing for effective carbon-free flight aboard smaller aircraft like the Dash-8. There are still logistical challenges and federal approval awaiting approval of the technology, as Green Hydrogen requires four times the volume of gasoline, according to TechCrunch.
Universal Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko says the test marked a “new golden age of aviation.” He continues: “We think it’s a pretty monumental accomplishment. It keeps us on track to have probably the first certified hydrogen airplane in passenger service.”
A senior engineer in the aviation industry told TechCrunch that the demonstration is just the first step. “Until both motors are driven by hydrogen, it’s still just a show. But I don’t want to scoff at it because we need these stepping stones to learn.”