Zero-emissions hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft
AFTER 12 YEARS developing hydrogen propulsion systems for small unmanned aircraft, HES Energy Systems has unveiled plans for Element One, the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft.
Designed as a zero-emissions aircraft, Element One merges HES’ ultra-light hydrogen fuel cell technologies with a distributed electric aircraft propulsion design. With virtually no change to its current drone-scale systems, HES’ distributed system allows for modularity and increased safety through multiple system redundancies.
Element One is designed to fly four passengers for 500 km to 5000 km depending on whether hydrogen is stored in gaseous or liquid form. This performance is several orders of magnitude better than any battery-electric aircraft attempt so far, opening new aerial routes between smaller towns and rural areas using an existing and dense network of smallscale airports and aerodromes.
The promise of hydrogen-electric power could shape the future of aviation, says Taras Wankewycz, founder of HES. “It’s now possible to break past the endurance limits of battery-electric flight using HES’ ultra-light hydrogen energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement. Element One’s design paves the way for renewable hydrogen as a longrange fuel for electric aviation.”
Refuelling Element One will take no more than 10 minutes using an automated nacelle swap system that applies AGVs and automated warehouse operations such as those used by Amazon and Alibaba.
HES also plans to begin associating on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One. The energy company is in discussion with industrial-scale hydrogen producers to explore energy-efficient refuelling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally.
In an effort to explore new business models that help position Element One into new travel segments, HES has aligned its zero-carbon aviation roadmap with Wingly, a French star-tup that offers flight sharing services for decentralised and regional air travel: “We analysed the millions of destination searches made by the community of 200,000 pilots and passengers on our platform and confirm there is a tremendous need for inter-regional transport between secondary cities,” says Emeric de Waziers, CEO of Wingly. “By combining autonomous emission free aircraft such as Element One, digital community-based platforms like Wingly and the existing high density network of airfields, we can change the paradigm. France alone offers a network of more than 450 airfields but only 10 percent of these are connected by regular airlines. We will simply connect the remaining 90 percent.”
Targeting a first flying prototype before 2025, HES is in the process of building a technical and commercial consortium involving both the aviation and hydrogen ecosystems.