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Another leap towards zero-emission flying was taken recently with the first UK test of battery-electric airplane taking place at Cranfield Airport.
The Piper M-class six-seater, which used a powertrain from California-based ZeroAvia, took to the skies of eastern England and flew a round trip of 60 nautical miles. The flight formed part of the HyFlyer program to advance zero-emissions aviation by replacing conventional piston engines in propeller aircraft with electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells. The project is funded through Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI)-led Aerospace R&T programme.
Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia’s founder and CEO, said:
“This flight is the latest in a series of milestones that moves the possibility of zero emission flight closer to reality. We all want the aviation industry to come back after the pandemic on a firm footing to be able to move to a net zero future, with a green recovery. That will not be possible without realistic, commercial options for zero emission flight, something we will bring to market as early as 2023.”
ZeroAvia have also been working on a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. One of the current challenges in battery technology is getting a working balance between the power of the battery and its weight, critical in a industry like aviation. We recently showed how researchers have identified that a chemical found in the human brain could provide the key to helping create lightweight batteries, and how artificial intelligence is helping another team of researchers develop more powerful, faster charging batteries.
The hydrogen fuel cell powertrain would offer similar zero-emission capabilities to batteries but already shows a better energy-to-weight ratios and cheaper operating costs, making it viable for larger scale commercial applications in the near future.
ZeroAvia intends to have a 10 to 20-seat aircraft certified with hydrogen propulsion within three years, with 50 to 100-seat models by 2030. In terms of further goals, the business aims to have commercial aircraft carrying over 200 passengers more than 3,000 nautical miles by 2040.
Longer test flights in the UK are planned for later in summer 2020, with a 300 nautical mile flight from the Orkney Islands the largest of these.