Universal Hydrogen Secures Enough Funding for 2022 Regional Airliner Flight Test

A full-scale prototype of Universal Hydrogen’s gaseous hydrogen module, with one capsule removed. (Universal Hydrogen)

Universal Hydrogen has secured a new $62 million funding round that the California-based startup says will be enough to conduct the first test flight of its hydrogen fuel cell powertrain on a regional airliner next year, according to an Oct. 14 announcement.

The latest round of funding comes from a collection of aviation and non-aviation industry investors, including Mitsubishi HC Capital, Tencent, Stratos, GE Aviation, Waltzing Matilda Aviation, Fourth Realm and Hawktail among others. Universal Hydrogen launched its concept of using the global intermodal freight network to eliminate the need for infrastructure to provide hydrogen power for passenger carrying aircraft last year, and has continued to expand its operations, establishing a headquarters in Los Angeles, an engineering center in Toulouse and a flight test center in Moses Lake, Washington.

“While regional aviation represents a sizable market opportunity and an important early proof point in the fight against climate change, it is a small fraction of total aviation emissions,” Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen, said in a statement. “If we want to decarbonize the industry on the timeframe of the Paris Agreement, the world’s narrowbody airliner fleet has to become hydrogen-powered starting in the 2030s. There is no known alternative technology to get there.”

The company anticipates entry into commercial service in 2025 with a certified retrofit conversion kit for existing ATR 72 and De Havilland Canada Dash-8 regional airliners. Eremenko describes Universal Hydrogen as a hydrogen logistics company, focused on using its patented hydrogen storage pods capable of generating enough power to initially enable flight operations on short haul regional airline flights.

Their goal of initially enabling hydrogen-powered took a major step forward through their partnership with Redmond, Washington-based magniX to supply an electric propulsion system as part of a retrofit conversion kit for the De Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300.

According to Universal Hydrogen, the first flight of its hydrogen fuel cell powertrain will occur on a 40-passenger regional airliner at their flight test center in Moses Lake, although the specific aircraft type has not been revealed yet. Hydrogen for the flight will be supplied using Universal Hydrogen’s modular fuel capsules that enable the delivery of hydrogen from the point of production directly to the aircraft using the existing freight network and airport cargo handling equipment—without the need for any new infrastructure.

The latest funding round brings Universal Hydrogen’s total capital raised to date to $85 million, following a previous financing round announced in April that included Airbus Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota Ventures, Sojitz and Future Shape among others.

“The gravity of climate change is forcing a tipping point in the green hydrogen ecosystem of producers, distributors, and consumers,” Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures said in a statement. “Universal Hydrogen has the breakthrough technology, talented team, and operational urgency to emerge as the distribution leader in this hydrogen ecosystem. As early investors, we are proud to continue to support their efforts in any way we can.”

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