Universal Hydrogen and MagniX partner to create world’s largest hydrogen-fueled aircraft
September 16, 2020
The US company MagniX, which specializes in electric aircraft drives, has entered into a partnership with the company Universal Hydrogen. Universal Hydrogen is developing a conversion kit for the propulsion system that MagniX intends to install in a 40-seater aircraft. The two companies aim to transform a Dash 8 twin turboprop aircraft with carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains.
Image: Universal Hydrogen
Retrofitting the Dash 8 twin turboprop aircraft with hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains
MagniX and Universal Hydrogen are aiming to transform the de Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, better known as the Dash 8. The Dash 8 is a time-honored twin turboprop traditionally used for commercial regional air service. The 40-passenger regional aircraft will be retrofitted with carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains. If the project succeeds, the lessons learned can be applied for the development of retrofit conversion kits for the wider ATR 42 family of aircraft.
MagniX is already involved in flight tests for all-electric versions of smaller airplanes such as the de Havilland Beaver (for Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air) and the Cessna Grand Caravan. This partnership, however, will open a new window for MagniX as well as for Universal Hydrogen to make the development of hydrogen-powered aircraft a reality.
Universal Hydrogen’s plan for the Dash 8 calls for MagniX to provide an electric propulsion system in the 2-megawatt class for each wing, powered by hydrogen fuel cells. MagniX has previously developed electric airplane motors in the range of 280 to 560 kilowatts. The conversion is expected to reduce seat capacity from 50 to 40 passengers.
Universal Hydrogen is working on safer and more efficient systems for transporting hydrogen on trucks and trains in Kevlar-coated pods. “We want to basically turn hydrogen into dry freight,” Paul Eremenko, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told Bloomberg News last month. The partnership with MagniX aims to demonstrate the market viability for hydrogen-electric hybrid propulsion systems.
Hydrogen planes to solve industry’s carbon problem
The aviation industry is under pressure to do something about the immense amount of carbon emissions its engines generate. The output is accelerating many times faster than from sectors such as energy and agriculture, contributing to global warming.
Air travel accounts for roughly 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and it is steadily growing. While some engineers are developing small electrified aircraft, current batteries are too heavy to power commercial planes on their own. Airlines have run highly publicized flights on biofuel blends, but biofuels are often considered a stopgap measure, even if they achieve mass production.
Hydrogen fuel-cell power systems in cars and airplanes are meant to address the challenge of climate change by providing a carbon-free fuel source. Today, commercial hydrogen is typically produced in the course of processing fossil fuels, but it can also be made through solar-powered electrolysis or biological production. Provided that hydrogen is generated from water through electrolysis using renewable power can make hydrogen production carbon-free. This would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flight.