The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Universal Hydrogen Recruits Fuel Cell Specialist Plug Power for Its Aircraft Retrofit Plan

Universal Hydrogen is teaming with Plug Power to advance its plans to develop hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion systems to power converted regional airliners. The U.S. companies intend to build and test a full-scale ground-based prototype for a two-MW hydrogen-electric powertrain that they intend to have ready for retrofitting under a supplemental type certificate (STC) by 2024.

Plug Power has extensive experience in developing hydrogen fuel cell stack technology for other e-mobility applications. The customer base for its ProGen systems includes BMW, Amazon, Walmart, Carrefour, and the Southern Company; the venture with start-up Universal Hydrogen will be its first involvement in the aviation sector.

Earlier this month, Universal Hydrogen announced plans to re-engine Dash 8 and ATR42 regional airliners with fuel cell electric propulsion and refillable hydrogen modules that it intends to deliver directly from fuel-production facilities to the aircraft. The company, which was founded in early 2020 by former Airbus chief technology officer Paul Eremenko, says that the propulsion systems would be able to support routes of up to around 1,000 km (633 miles) with 40 passengers. It maintains that its approach avoids the prohibitive infrastructure costs that would be associated with supplying the carbon-free fuel to aircraft via ships, pipelines, and trucks.

The hydrogen modules will be loaded into the rear of the aircraft and placed in a compartment replacing the last two rows of passenger seats. Plumbing lines will run from the modules through the aircraft’s dorsal fins into each of the two nacelles where fuel cells and electric motors would be installed to power the aircraft’s existing propellers.

Last week, Universal Hydrogen announced another partnership, with electric-power pioneer MagniX, which will provide a pair of two-MW electric motors for the conversion kit. It intends to incentivize airliners to become early adopters by offering to cover all or part of the cost of the installations.

After ground testing the new propulsion systems, the partners will fit the complete powertrain into a test aircraft that will be used for the STC approval process. In the longer-term, Universal Hydrogen aims to provide the technology to manufacturers to power new aircraft models as standard equipment.

“Through this partnership, we are taking our first steps toward establishing a more complete ecosystem for the aviation market, from powertrain to hydrogen solutions, ultimately enabling a global transportation system powered by green hydrogen,” commented Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh.