While medium and long-term hydrogen projects are planned in commercial aviation at Airbus, other companies continue their investments in the transition to new hydrogen propulsion and power systems.
UK SME Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) has received a €12 million investment from Safran and investment company HydrogenOne. CAeS is a market leader in the design and development of new aircraft concepts, modification of existing aircraft and integration of advanced technologies to meet the most complex challenges facing the aerospace industry today.
CAeS is currently working on the integration of a hydrogen solution on a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft. In September 2021, CAeS purchased a Britten-Norman Islander from Skybus for CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) certification and is expected to fly in 2023.
Then, it should be commercialised in 2025. These investments are part of its Fresson project, a concept that paves the way for commercial hydrogen-electric powered flights.
The fuel cell is an on-board, autonomous and silent electrical energy production system. It consists of a cell, a hydrogen gas tank, a compressor, an electrical converter and a computer. The fuel cell offers an alternative to existing solutions for supplying electrical energy. Its simple and highly reliable operating principle is based on a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen, which produces an electric current, water and heat. This technology is not new. In 2008, Boeing tested a two-seater aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell for the first time, during a 20-minute crewed flight.
Today, Safran is working to develop hydrogen fuel cell powered electric propulsion technology for aviation, thanks to investments made with HydrogenOne in CAeS. The British SME will use its aircraft as a flying laboratory for its technologies. The stated aim is to offer the first certified aviation fuel cell: a key step towards the certification of the world’s first ever zero-emission transport aircraft.
The young American company Universal Hydrogen and the Singaporean company H3 Dynamics have been based in Toulouse since last year and are going to create a joint R&D centre for systems integration, with a view to designing hydrogen-powered aircraft. Universal Hydrogen develops modular gaseous and liquid hydrogen tanks that can be changed at airports. The company is managing the hydrogen logistics for future fuel cell aircraft and is targeting the electrification of Dash 8 and ATR 72 regional turboprop aircraft. Universal Hydrogen has already concluded agreements for the acquisition of hydrogen conversion kits for ACIA Aero Leasing’s ATR 72-600s, or more recently those of the French airline Amelia. In addition to the conversion kits, the agreement signed between the two companies also includes the supply of green hydrogen needed by Amelia to support its operations.
H3 Dynamics, a pioneer in hydrogen-powered UAVs, had already announced a $26 million fundraising round to accelerate the development of its carbon-free aviation projects, and hopes to commercialise a hydrogen-powered aircraft within 10 to 15 years.