Shell is to design and build a pair of commercial-scale mobile hydrogen refuelers to be used by ZeroAvia in flight testing for its hydrogen-electric propulsion system. The oil and gas company, which is an investor in ZeroAvia, this week signed a memorandum of understanding that commits it to provide compressed low-carbon hydrogen supplies at the start-up’s research and development center in Hollister, California, as well as at other locations in the western U.S. as part of the Hydrogen Airport Refuelling Ecosystem initiative.
ZeroAvia is significantly expanding its facilities in Hollister as it prepares to start flight testing a second Dornier 228 twin-turboprop aircraft converted to run in a hybrid configuration with its ZA600 600 kW powertrain that combines electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells. It is aiming to complete FAA certification for the propulsion system, which could support aircraft with up to 20 passenger seats on flights of up to 500 miles, by 2024.
The development work is also using a second Dornier 228 aircraft for flight testing that is being conducted at ZeroAvia’s facility at Cotswold Airport in the UK under the government-backed HyFlyer II program. Here, Shell subsidiary Equilon Enterprises is providing infrastructure in the shape of what it says will be Europe’s first landside-to-airside hydrogen airport pipeline.
The 100-meter (328-feet) hydrogen pipeline runs alongside ZeroAvia’s hangar and the company will use it with an electrolyzer and mobile refueling unit. This installation is being conducted with support from the UK’s Department for Transport and the Connected Places Catapult as part of the government’s Zero Emissions Flight Infrastructure program to enable airports to prepare for zero-emissions operations.
“Shell recognizes that aviation has unique challenges in decarbonization and needs practical and scalable net-zero solutions,” said Shell’s hydrogen general manager, Oliver Bishop. “We believe ZeroAvia’s technology is a viable option, and this agreement will allow us to demonstrate successful provision of low-carbon hydrogen supply while supporting the development of codes, standards, and refueling protocols for hydrogen-powered aviation.”
According to ZeroAvia, falling prices for hydrogen fuel, in the context of rising oil prices, will stimulate interest in aviation applications. It is seeking to capitalize on state-led plans to establish hydrogen hubs that are receiving federal support and encouragement from the U.S. Department of Energy.
ZeroAvia’s powertrains use hydrogen fuel in a fuel cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. This electricity in turn powers electric motors that turn the propellers, producing no emissions other than water.
“Hydrogen-electric aviation is the only practical, holistic, and economically attractive solution to aviation’s growing climate-change impact,” commented ZeroAvia’s infrastructure vice president Arnab Chatterjee. “Fuel provision needs to be economical and convenient for airlines to achieve operational cost benefits and ZeroAvia is leading these pioneering infrastructure developments with leading partners like Shell.”