Planes are the biggest polluters among different modes of transport in the world. A new company, it seems, is working on changing this paradigm. ZeroAvia, a California-based aviation company is aiming to build planes that will fly using hydrogen-powered electricity. These planes, the company claims, will not only be easy to fly but also easy to manufacture.
ZeroAvia states that hydrogen fuel will not produce the kind of emissions that jet fuel produces. The company initially aims to manufacture small planes with 10-20 seats, which can fly short trips with a range of up to 500 miles. The company has also conducted a number of flight tests for small flights. For these tests, it is using a prototype plane in a Piper M-class airframe, with a 2-ton takeoff weight and six business class seats. The company calls it the "largest zero-emission aircraft flying without any fossil fuel support."
The prototype has already been greenlighted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The test flights have helped the company integrate key components in the powertrain and meet the maximum power delivery targets. If the company is successful in reaching its targets, it will mean that we will not only have electric cars on the ground, but also electric planes in the sky.
However, the technology for both differs. While electric cars use lithium-ion cells for generating electricity, electric planes will use hydrogen-powered fuel cells instead. These cells use hydrogen as fuel and only generate water vapour as a byproduct.
Until now, while hydrogen fuel cells have been used in small capacities, they haven't been used in vehicles, as they need a large amount of thrust. ZeroAvia has not yet revealed the technology which makes it possible to run an airplane powertrain on fuel cells. It also remains to be seen whether the company has a proper strategy to see it through. One of the companies which promised a similar paradigm, ZunumAero, recently laid off dozens of employees and stopped operations due to lack of funds. The startup, which was backed by Boeing and JetBlue, also planned on making similar smaller planes but was unsuccessful.