Aviation is responsible for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the industry is growing rapidly. While airlines and some industry groups have committed to zero emissions by 2050, it can be difficult to meet the demands of flying without fossil fuels.
Hydrogen fuel cells represent a possible route that some companies hope can help reduce aviation emissions. But to significantly reduce the industry’s emissions, the technology would need to be scaled up to power relatively large aircraft.
“This puts us right on the path to commercial launches,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, at a press conference announcing the test flight.
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 fund. The company has also received more than 1,500 customer pre-orders for its hydrogen fuel cell systems, according to Miftakhov.
The startup has been flying test flights with smaller aircraft for several years, with varying degrees of success. In 2021 was one of ZeroAvia’s test flights forced to land and the aircraft was damaged after the battery backup system was turned off. With only the hydrogen fuel cells on, the plane lost power to its electric motors.
The recent January 2023 test flight of the 19-seat aircraft, which was delayed from summer 2022, the entire flight was supported by the battery system. Batteries provided about 50% of the power on the left side of the aircraft, with the hydrogen fuel cell system providing the other 50%.