Hydrogen propulsion and fuel group Plug Power is investing in eSTOL aircraft developer Airflow. In an October 13 announcement, the companies said they will seek to co-develop and certify a hydrogen fuel cell-based propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft, like the hybrid-electric Model 200 that Airflow already has in development.
In recent months, Airflow has announced letters of intent from prospective operators valued at around $600 million. The California-based company aims to start deliveries in 2025 to operators including Ravn Alaska, which has ordered 50 of the $2.5 million Model 200.
Plug Power is already partnered with propulsion system developers like Universal Hydrogen, which is working to convert existing turboprop regional airliners. The New York-based company, which already supplies hydrogen power for ground vehicles, says that using its ProGen-based hydrogen fuel cells would allow Airflow’s fixed-wing Model 200 to carry nine passengers or 2,000 pounds of cargo on sectors of up to 500 miles. This matches the performance of the hybrid-electric version of the aircraft.
In 2019, Plug Power, which has not disclosed the amount of its investment in Airflow, set a goal of developing a hydrogen business worth $1.2 billion over five years. It already has an operational partnership with Albany International Airport where its hydrogen fuel cells are used with ground support equipment.
Under the agreement with Airflow, Plug Power’s engineering team will integrate a full-scale, ground-based powertrain prototype. Once this has been successfully tested, the partners will retrofit the equipment into an aircraft to start the certification process.
“Over the last several years, we’ve been increasing our commitment to the aerospace market,” Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh commented. “From our investment in and partnership in Universal Hydrogen to our acquisition of EnergyOr, we know that ensuring our ProGen solutions meet the ultra-lightweight and rigorous certification requirements of aviation is essential to our ownership of this opportunity. In order to establish a complete ecosystem for the aviation market and enable a global transportation system power by green hydrogen, it’s essential that we work with players across aircraft classes who deeply understand the unique applicability of hydrogen in an industry as weight-sensitive as aviation.”
Airflow is working on two versions of its proposed aircraft, both of which could be operated by a single pilot. In addition to the Model 200, which would be able to land and take off from just 200 feet of runway, it plans a smaller model with a 500-pound payload, 250-mile range, which would be able to operate from a runway of only 150 feet.
Florida-based VerdeGo Aero is providing its hybrid-electric powertrain for the fixed-wing aircraft. The combined propulsion system is expected to deliver a 35 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with conventional turbine engines.
According to Airflow CEO and co-founder Marc Ausman, hydrogen propulsion can be offered as an alternative to its hybrid-based powertrain. “We see hydrogen fuel cell technology as a key thrust of our next-generation power systems, which along with sustainable aviation fuel-based hybrid systems and advanced battery systems, allow us to provide flexibility to our customers to deliver an aircraft that best meets their individual mission needs and sustainability goals.”
Earlier this year, Airflow flight-tested a subscale model to develop flight-control technology. Having completed more than 200 flights with this model, the engineering team began working on an autopilot system. It intends to use a Cessna 210 piston aircraft as a technology demonstrator.