Unveiling of the ATR 72 hydrogen-electric demonstrator
Universal Hydrogen, a leader in the development of hydrogen and electricity-based aviation fuels, has unveiled its test demonstration aircraft: a modified ATR 72-500.
Unveiled on July 11 at Universal Hydrogen’s new engineering and design center in Toulouse, France, the aircraft’s powertrain has been converted from a conventional turboprop configuration to electric motors powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
The California-based company, backed by JetBlue Ventures and other investors, has developed conversion kits for De Havilland Canada ATR 72s and Dash-8s. The kits include proprietary liquid hydrogen modular capsules intended to make transporting and loading green hydrogen efficient and effective.
Universal unveiled the aircraft at its new facilities and European headquarters, located in a hangar at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (LFBO), where Airbus and ATR test their planes in flight.
“Toulouse is the birthplace of the European aerospace industry and has been an essential part of our talent and partnership strategy,” Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko said in a statement. “We look forward to showcasing our progress towards decarbonizing aviation.”
Further development of the fuel capsule, the company said, will be a key focus for the Toulouse team. The system “exceeded key performance targets in recent full-scale prototype testing,” he said.
Plans for this technology go beyond experimentation. Universal Hydrogen has already reached an agreement with Connect Airlines for a firm order to convert 75 ATR 72-600s to hydrogen powertrains. The deal includes an option to convert an additional 25 devices. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2025.
According to Universal Hydrogen, most of the carbon emissions attributed to the civil aviation industry are produced by the global fleet of narrow-body airliners. That’s why the company says it’s targeting regional and narrow-body jets as “near-term decarbonization opportunities.” commercial airports around the world.
JetBlue Ventures and Joby Aviation
JetBlue Ventures featured Universal’s ATR 72 demonstrator in a Twitter post this week, calling it “the first of its kind to run on green hydrogen.”
We are excited to celebrate the debut of our holding company @Universal_H2, the first of its kind to run on green hydrogen. Check out those investor logos on the side, you might spy something familiar! 👀 pic.twitter.com/LBHsPMIgbF
— JetBlue Ventures (@JetBlueVentures) July 13, 2022
The investment arm of JetBlue Airways is also a major backer of another sustainable aviation company, Joby Aviation, which has flight-tested a prototype electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxi. powered by lithium-ion batteries.
But Joby’s interest in sustainable aviation fuel goes beyond lithium batteries. Last June, the California-based company revealed that it had purchased hydrogen-powered electric aircraft developer H2Fly.
Universal’s focus on Europe is tied to the region’s growing support for the development of a hydrogen fuel ecosystem for the aviation industry.
“The European Union has played a leading role in the development of hydrogen as a near-term decarbonisation option for transport applications, including aviation,” said Pierre Farjounel, CEO of ‘Universal Hydrogen for Europe. “This is one of the main reasons we have chosen to have a significant European footprint for Universal Hydrogen and we want to leverage Toulouse’s historic role as a leader in aerospace innovation to position the region as a major hub of climate technology.”