Aviation accounts for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry is growing rapidly. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, the need to fly may be difficult to achieve without fossil fuels.
Hydrogen fuel cells are one possible way some companies hope to help reduce aviation emissions. But in order to significantly reduce the industry’s emissions, the technology needs to be scaled up to power relatively large aircraft.
“This puts us directly on the path to a commercial launch,” ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakhov said 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 Bill Gates’ energy venture fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. According to Miftakhov, the company has also received more than 1,500 pre-orders for hydrogen fuel cell systems from customers.
The startup has been conducting test flights with small aircraft for years, with varying degrees of success. In 2021, a test flight of ZeroAvia was forced to land and the plane was damaged after the backup battery system was shut down. With only the hydrogen fuel cell running, the plane’s electric motors lost power.
The recent test flight of the 19-seat aircraft, which was postponed from the summer of 2022 to January 2023, will be fully supported by the battery system. Batteries provide about 50 percent of the power to the left side of the plane, with hydrogen fuel cell systems supplying the other 50 percent.