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Hydrogen emerges as the future’s zero-emission aviation fuel, with Airbus unveiling its ZeroE initiative aiming for hydrogen airliners by 2035. However, innovators seek to accelerate commercial H2 aircraft operations.

LA-based startup, Universal Hydrogen, spearheads a transformative project to develop a retrofit hydrogen powertrain for existing airliners. The initiative kicks off with a 40-seat De Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, colloquially known as the Dash-8, set to become the world’s largest hydrogen-fueled commercial aircraft.

While Airbus explores hydrogen combustion in modified gas turbines, Universal pioneers a fully electric fuel-cell powertrain featuring Magnix electric motors to propel the Dash-8’s two turboprops. Drawing on Magnix’s expertise from powering the world’s largest electric aircraft, Universal’

s Dash-8 will utilize a pair of two-megawatt electric motors, surpassing the standard plane’s power output.

Hydrogen, acting as a battery, generates electricity as it passes through the aircraft’s fuel cells. Although the hydrogen modules replacing the rear seats reduce capacity to 40 seats, the hydrogen Dash-8 boasts a range of approximately 400 nautical miles on gaseous hydrogen. This capability enables coverage of 75 percent of current Dash-8 flight routes, with anticipated increases to 95 percent with a liquid hydrogen system.

Fueling logistics are simplified, with hydrogen handled akin to dry freight, loaded and unloaded using standard cargo-loading equipment or forklifts. Universal targets commercial operation by 2024, ensuring passenger fares remain competitive despite limited seating and novel fuel technology.

With over 2,200 compatible Dash-8 aircraft worldwide, Universal aims to retrofit existing planes while also developing systems for integration into new aircraft designs. Hydrogen’s high energy density and diverse production methods render it ideal for aviation, offering a promising alternative to lithium batteries.

Universal’s commitment extends to safety testing, addressing concerns regarding hydrogen’s safety compared to conventional aviation fuel. Rigorous drop, burst, and vent tests on fuel modules aim to dispel skepticism surrounding hydrogen’s viability.

As Universal Hydrogen collaborates with Magnix to revolutionise aviation, the hydrogen-powered future inches closer, promising sustainable air travel for generations to come.

Source: Universal Hydrogen via Magnix

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