Hydrogen-powered plane takes off with startup’s test flight

Aviation accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry is growing rapidly. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to cut emissions to zero by 2050, the demand for flying can be difficult to achieve without fossil fuels.

Hydrogen fuel cells represent a possible route that some companies hope could help cut emissions from the aviation industry. But to significantly cut the industry’s emissions, the technology will need to scale up to power relatively large planes.

Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, said in a press conference announcing the test flight: “This is putting us on the path to a commercial launch.

ZeroAvia has raised more than $140 million in funding from investors, including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates’ energy venture fund. According to Miftakhov, the company has also received more than 1500 pre-orders from customers for its hydrogen fuel cell systems.

The startup has been making test flights for several years with smaller planes, with varying success. In 2021, one of ZeroAvia’s test flights is was forced to land and the plane was damaged after turning off the backup battery system. When only the hydrogen fuel cell operates, the aircraft loses power to the electric motors.

The recent January 2023 test flight of the 19-seat aircraft was delayed from summer 2022, was powered by the battery system for the whole flight. The battery provides about 50% of the power to the left side of the aircraft, with a hydrogen fuel cell system providing the remaining 50%.

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