A start-up working on the development of hydrogen-powered aircraft raised 24.3 million dollars in a new investment round. Among the investors are funds supported by philanthropist Bill Gates, known from Microsoft and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. Energy Group Shell is also one of the investors.
The British-American ZeroAvia will use the money to scale up its hydrogen propulsion system to larger aircraft that can carry at least 50 passengers. The latest model, and largest so far, has barely twenty seats.
Hydrogen is seen as an important fuel for reducing aviation emissions. The use of batteries, as in cars and trucks, is not suitable for aviation because they are too heavy and flying is energy intensive. Hydrogen only emits water when it is burned. And if the gas needed for this is produced from renewable energy, its use has little polluting impact on the atmosphere.
The funding for ZeroAvia follows a round at the end of last year that yielded nearly $ 38 million. At the time, the British government was also one of the financiers. That money was used to further develop the company’s technology in a smaller aircraft.
Because of the great interest ZeroAvia has decided to speed up the development of the aircraft, said ZeroAvia’s CEO Val Miftakhov in an interview. By the end of 2021, he expects ZeroAvia to raise at least another $ 100 million to design and develop the larger hydrogen plane. This would bring the company closer to commercialising the concept.
The total cost of the program to develop larger aircraft will be about 250 million dollars, Miftakhov said. Some of the additional funds will probably come from public subsidies.
The company is currently working on the full operation of its aircraft on hydrogen instead of the current hybrid model that uses batteries in addition to hydrogen. It also plans to switch from condensed hydrogen to liquid hydrogen, as it is more efficient to store.