A new aviation partnership could see commercial hydrogen-electric airliners take to the skies. The parent company of Alaska Airlines, Alaska Air Group, is partnering with zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia to develop a hydrogen-electric powertrain for a 76-seater passenger airliner, a press statement reveals.
The two companies say that their ZA2000 hydrogen-electric powertrain will have a power output of 2,000-5,000 kW and a range of 500 miles (804 km). The powertrain will initially be fitted into a full-size De Havilland Q400 aircraft. Alaska Air also announced it has invested in ZeroAvia with a view to helping it meet its goal of net-zero emissions by 2040.
ZeroAvia is also working on a 600kW powertrain for commercial electric plains and it has experimental certificates from the CAA in the U.K. and the FAA in the U.S. for two prototype planes. Alaska Air will now help to scale ZeroAvia's technology and to develop the new ZA2000 hydrogen-electric powertrain, which will eventually be fitted to its airliners.
'Making our skies emission-free'
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced a commitment, on October 4, to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Its goals are mirrored by several airlines, which aim to reduce their impact on the environment by backing e-fuels as well as electric and hydrogen technologies. Referring to the new partnership, Val Miftakhov, CEO and founder of ZeroAvia, said "the aviation industry is one of the hardest industries to decarbonize; however, with this collaboration, we are one step closer to achieving our goal of making our skies emission-free."
For all the progress made in recent years towards the electrification of transportation, several electric aircraft projects, such as NASA's X-57 Maxwell, highlight the fact that electric aircraft are currently limited in their range, and a lot of work is needed before longer trips can be carried out by e-planes. Hydrogen fuel cell aircraft have the potential to increase this range by using the abundant gas to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity — importantly, hydrogen has a hundred times more energy per unit of mass than lithium-ion batteries, which are currently too heavy for aviation. Still, a lot of tests are still needed to prove the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cell aircraft. ZeroAvia, for example, recently performed a ground test of its 600kW powertrain (shown in the video above), which is designed for a 20-seater aircraft with a 500-mile range, and it is yet to conduct prototype manufacturing of its 2,000 kW engine, which is expected to take place in 2022.