In a move that could foreshadow cooperation with Airbus, California start-up Universal Hydrogen is locating a second engineering and design center near the European aerospace group’s Toulouse, France headquarters. The facility will initially focus on the development of a liquid hydrogen capsule for the company’s hydrogen modular storage and logistics system.
The company has appointed Airbus veteran Pierre Farjounel as general manager of its new European operations, which are now based in the historic Hangar B16 at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. Farjounel previously served as the head of digital continuity and information systems for Airbus’s next-generation aircraft.
Beginning in 2022, the engineering center will also support the development of conversion kits for retrofitting regional aircraft with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, as well as the development of modular hydrogen storage technology for single-aisle, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other applications. Universal Hydrogen plans to convert turboprop airliners such as the ATR42/72 and Dash 8.
Much of the company’s leadership formerly worked at Airbus. Universal co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko served as Airbus’s chief technology officer, leading electrification and decarbonization initiatives. Chief technology officer Mark Cousin was technical director for the Airbus Beluga XL program and subsequently was senior vice president for flight demonstrators. Former Airbus CEO Tom Enders and former chief commercial officer John Leahy both serve on Universal Hydrogen’s strategic advisory board.
Universal is backed by investment from Airbus Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota Ventures, and Sojitz Corporation. The company has agreements with Icelandair, Ravn Alaska, and Air Nostrum to retrofit Dash 8 and ATR 72 aircraft with hydrogen power for passenger service beginning in 2025. The airlines have also committed to long-term fuel supply contracts using Universal Hydrogen’s modular fuel distribution network.
Toulouse is in France’s Occitanie region, which recently launched a green hydrogen development plan for the period 2019-2030 with a budget of €150M. According to the region’s president, Carole Delga, Universal Hydrogen will be able to benefit from her agency’s support network.
In addition to Toulouse, Universal continues to work with other regions in France, as well as with Germany and the Netherlands, to further accelerate its engineering and manufacturing capabilities. The company is working to develop a full-scale hydrogen aviation demonstration, as well as a regional service center in the Paris Region, by the end of 2022.