New Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft Is In The Works
Singapore-based HES Energy Systems is developing a machine which it has dubbed the world's first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft, the Element One.
The company first announced its plans for the Element One back in 2018. More recently, its parent company ISAE-SUPAERO, announced it is working on a hydrogen-fueled unmanned aircraft to cross the South Atlantic.
Though the debate over electric versus hydrogen rages on, a 2021 MarketsandMarkets report, published in April, stated that the Hydrogen aircraft market will be worth $7.427 million by 2030.
Personalized, zero-emission flight
HES stated that it aims to leverage the potential of hydrogen aviation by building an aircraft that will pioneer a new mode of aerial transport that is silent, decentralized, personalized, and zero-emission.
The Element One utilizes ultra-light hydrogen fuel cells, capable of supplying over 500Wh/kg, and a distributed electric aircraft propulsion design. The aircraft employs a modular design that provides increased safety via several system redundancies.
Though HES has revealed little in the way of specifications for its Element One concept aircraft, the image it revealed with the original announcement shows an aircraft with 14 propellers, each attached to a green hydrogen fuel cell.
The craft is designed to fly only 4 passengers for up to 5000 km — depending on whether the hydrogen fuel is stored in its gas or liquid form.
Though the passenger count might seem low, HES stated that it means to make its aircraft "on-demand" and more accessible for rural communities, giving the project the feel of an air taxi project such as the VoloConnect.
Breaking the endurance limits of battery-electric flight
In the same manner as many recent eVTOL projects, the Element One can be refueled in no more than 10 minutes. While most air taxis are turning to replaceable batteries, the Element One will use an automated nacelle swap system to switch out its hydrogen tanks.
"It’s now possible to break past the endurance limits of battery-electric flight using HES’ ultra-light hydrogen energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement" Taras Wankewycz, founder of HES, explained in the company's press release. "Element One’s design paves the way for renewable hydrogen as a long-range fuel for electric aviation."
The company is in discussions with industrial hydrogen producers to test energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable energy generated at airports.
HES's parent company, ISAE-SUPAERO, also recently announced that it wants to follow in the footsteps of historic French aviator Jean Mermoz by crossing the South Atlantic from Senegal to Brazil — in a journey of approximately 1,864 miles (3,000 km) — using an unmanned aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
Other firms that are developing hydrogen aircraft include Airbus, with its hydrogen 'pods' concept, and Universal Hydrogen, which aims to retrofit existing aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells.
Working towards a hydrogen-fueled sharing economy
Element One has also partnered with Wingly, a Paris-based startup that enables private pilots to share seats with local passengers, somewhat like a carpooling app.
At the time of the Element One concept's unveiling, Emeric de Waziers, CEO of Wingly, said "We analyzed the millions of destination searches made by the community of 200,000 pilots and passengers on our platform and confirm there is a tremendous need for inter-regional transport between secondary cities."
"By combining autonomous emission-free aircraft such as Element One, digital community-based platforms like Wingly and the existing high-density network of airfields, we can change the paradigm. France alone offers a network of more than 450 airfields but only 10% of these are connected by regular airlines. We will simply connect the remaining 90%."
HES announced that it hopes to have built a first flying prototype of the Element One before 2025 and that it will share more information soon on its work into hydrogen aviation. Stay posted.
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