Universal Hydrogen is set to announce preliminary deals with airlines such as Icelandair and Air Nostrum to introduce hydrogen capsules to replace existing turboprop systems by 2025.
The US firm’s new technology is different to purpose-built hydrogen-powered aircraft, such as the Airbus ‘ZEROe” zero emission aircraft, which is looking to enter service by 2035.
Instead, reports Reuters, the company is working on a solution that utilises hydrogen fuel capsules that can be retrofitted into existing aircraft models, with its current focus on smaller, regional planes.
The company, founded by former Airbus Technology chief Paul Eremenko, wants to accelerate hydrogen for smaller aircraft by 2025.
The kits will include a fuel cell and electric powertrain to replace conventional turboprops – fulfilling a US$2.5 billion market regionally, according to Mr Eremenko.
“We are the Nespresso capsule of hydrogen. We don’t grow the coffee and we don’t make the coffee-maker,” Mr Eremenko told Reuters, referring to Nestlé who pioneered coffee drinking through capsules.
“It is a similar model for us … Somebody has to build the first coffee-maker and our version of that is to develop a conversion kit and offer that to regional airlines.”
Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum will buy 11 kits to convert its turboplanes, Ravn Alaska will purchase five conversion kits under a long-term hydrogen fuel deal along with Icelandair.
Airlines who invest in the kits can be offset against long-term contracts to supply fuel via these capsules, Reuters revealed.
The company successfully raised US$20.5 million in its series A funding in April supported by Airbus, Toyota and JetBlue, and seeks to raise its series B funding.
Cost and availability of hydrogen will remain a barrier for companies to get behind.
“At the moment, hydrogen is more expensive. We believe that in the future when hydrogen is more available, it will become closer to being competitive,” Icelandair chief operating officer Jens Thordarson told Reuters.
“There is a good opportunity for Iceland to be an early adopter of these kinds of technologies.”
The company will also launch a design study into incorporating its capsules with bumped Dornier 328 regional turboprop with German company Deutsche Aircraft.
The same company partners with H2FLY, a fuel-cell developer, to see the Dornier 328 in the skies by 2025, powered by hydrogen.
Universal Hydrogen stated it is working to make hydrogen solutions as economical and available as possible by working with industry stakeholders and regulators to develop appropriate certification and safety standards.