In the U.S., air travel accounts for about a third of all Co2 emissions. A startup called ZeroAvia wants to clean things up in a big way.
ZeroAvia recently emerged from stealth with a zero-emission powertrain for small aircraft. It’s electric, but there are no big, bulky batteries involved. ZeroAvia opted for compressed hydrogen instead.
Why not use batteries? Compressed hydrogen is about four times as energy-dense as today’s best batteries. Founder, physicist and pilot Valery Miftakhov told FastCompany “actually getting a sizable aircraft in the air for a reasonable amount of time will be quite difficult with batteries.” That’s something he believes isn’t likely to change in the near future.
ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-powered system, on the other hand, allows for flights of up to 500 miles with as many as 20 passengers. Those numbers may seem too small to make a significant impact in air travel emissions, but Miftakhov notes that roughly half of all flights are less than 500 miles.
The company plans to partner with aircraft manufacturers to offer the powertrain as an option. ZeroAvia did its own testing on a Piper Matrix that was retrofitted, so airlines looking to go green may have that opportunity as well.
There’s more incentive than just reducing environmental impact here, too. Miftakhov says that the hydrogen system reduces fuel and maintenance costs by as much as 75 percent — which can cut the overall cost of operating a route in half.
Another cost that ZeroAvia’s customers won’t have to deal with: replacement cells, which battery-powered planes will need on a regular basis.
ZeroAvia plans to start offering their powertain by 2022. The company is optimistic about its potential and believes that industry demand will be strong. They’re predicting sales of 100,000 or more units in the first ten years.
Personally, I can’t wait for the day I can climb onboard a zero-emission plane at my tiny local airport. It’s served exclusively by the kind of airplanes ZeroAvia is targeting.
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