US advanced propulsion developer Universal Hydrogen has burned through its cash reserves and is folding as a company. 

The start-up’s failure is a major blow for the US regional air mobility sector, which seeks to develop low- and no-emissions alternatives for short-haul commercial flights. 

“We confirm the unfortunate news that Universal Hydrogen… has made the difficult decision to wind up the company,” Mark Cousin, the company’s chief executive and board chairman, told FlightGlobal on 30 June. 

”While we have been pursuing new capital for some time, and evaluating various strategic options, we have been unsuccessful in closing any new investment and therefore our board has made this decision.”

Additionally, The Seattle Times reports that founding chief executive Paul Eremenko, who formerly worked as Airbus’ chief technology officer, quietly stepped down as CEO in April. 

Cousin confirms that Eremenko is no longer CEO but “remains a paid advisor to Universal Hydrogen”.  Eremenko’s LinkedIn page lists his current position as co-founder of a “stealth AI start-up”. 

Universal Hydrogen

Source: Universal Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen’s hydrogen-modified Dash 8 has been engaged in a planned two-year flight test programme at Mojave Air & Space Port in California

The Hawthorne, California-based company had been developing hydrogen-fuel-cell propulsion conversions for both De Havilland Canada Dash 8s and ATR turboprops, with long-term ambitions of providing hydrogen-based propulsion packages for Airbus’ and Boeing’s next clean-sheet narrowbody designs. 

Universal Hydrogen first flew a modified Dash 8 partially powered by a hydrogen fuel cell powerplant in March 2023 during a highly celebrated test flight at Moses Lake in eastern Washington. 

The start-up installed a powertrain replacing the Dash 8’s right-side Pratt & Whitney PW123 turboprop. The powertrain consisted of a fuel-cell system, supplied by New York company Plug Power, feeding electric power to a Magnix-made 872hp (650kW) Magni650 electric motor to turn the prop. 

The retrofitted Dash 8 performed a climbing turn and two flyovers of Grant County International airport. On the second fly-by, the pilot throttled back the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney PW123 turboprop and let the Dash 8 cruise principally on thrust from its hydrogen power plant.

Eremenko toasted the technical feat as ushering in a “new golden age of aviation” during a ceremony following the test flight. 

Universal Hydrogen going bust leaves US/UK-based ZeroAvia as the standalone leader of the hydrogen-conversion space. Its failure also tells of high development costs associated with next-generation propulsion systems for commercial aircraft. 

Co-founder Jon Gordon calls the decision to wind down the company “heartbreaking” in a social media post. 

”Despite everyone’s best efforts, [Universal Hydrogen] proved unable to secure additional funding to move forward,” he says. ”Perhaps we were just too early. Perhaps we couldn’t convince the world that hydrogen, and not just SAF, are necessary for the future of aviation. Time will tell.”