Russian physicist flies prototype hydrogen powertrain for electric aircraft

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

California-based startup ZeroAvia has emerged from stealth mode to test out a complete hydrogen powertrain for medium range electric aircraft.

The hydrogen power unit was tested in a six seat Piper aircraft. The company is developing the technology for 10 to 20 seat electric aircraft that will have a range of 500 miles to be in production by 2022, says Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia Founder and CEO.

Russian physicist Miftakhov is a serial cleantech entrepreneur and pilot. He previously founded and was the CEO of eMotorWerks, and the team at ZeroAvia includes executives from Tesla, BMW, NVIDIA, Zee Aero, Air Liquide, and SystemIQ, as well as other founding members of eMotorWerks. The company is now raising $10m for the development, and suppliers of the fuel cell, electric motor, inverter and other parts of the hudrogen powertrain will be announced in the coming months.

“We are working with a supplier on this, not only sourcing the stack but working with the supplier to build on aviation variant for power profile,” he said. “As you take these things to higher altitudes and colder termperautes there are more challenges in the oxygen supply so we are working with the stack manufacturer to make sure we can deliver the performance.”

“Today our demonstrator Piper is at 260kW peak, delivered through two dual redundant sub units with – two inverters , two motors and two stacks with 150kW on each side. We will have at least dual redundancy in all our power units. Our commercial turbine will have 600 to 800kW power with dual redundancy which we will put into a 10 to 20 seat aircraft next year,” he said. 

The company plans to lease the drivetrain to customers and provide fuel and maintenance as part of its power-by-the-hour model, in which customers pay only for the hours that they use the drivetrain. This model emulates engine leasing options already popular in the aviation market.

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“Using hydrogen produced from local renewable energy is the most practical way to enable zero-emission aircraft of commercially meaningful size on traditional 300 to 500-mile regional missions,” he said. “It will also be more economical than conventional turbine engines, or even the battery-based systems, on the total cost basis. We calculate the total costs of operating a ZeroAvia aircraft to be close to half of what it costs to fly a conventional turbine aircraft, due to lower fuel input costs, higher powertrain efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs.”

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