Alternative fuel start-up Universal Hydrogen plans to open facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the manufacturing and distribution of hydrogen fuel tanks for aircraft.
The company, founded several years ago by former Airbus and United Technologies executive Paul Eremenko, is designing and developing portable “hydrogen storage modules” capable of being loaded onto aircraft.
Such modules could provide fuel for future hydrogen-powered aircraft, Universal says. The California company is also working to develop a hydrogen fuel distribution network.
In addition to manufacturing the modules, the New Mexico site will “assemble airplane retrofit kits, perform aftermarket maintenance services and manage administrative activities”, Universal says on 10 March.
The Albuquerque site sits on 20.3ha (50 acres) northeast of the Albuquerque International Sunport’s passenger terminal. It has access to Sunport’s runway and could potentially be linked to a nearby railway spur, says Universal.
The company anticipates starting “full-scale manufacturing” at the site by 2024 and aims to hire 500 workers over seven years. New Mexico is providing financial assistance to the tune of $10 million.
“The company utilises proprietary capsules that safely store hydrogen during transit and serve as modular tanks that are loaded directly onto aircraft,” Universal says. “The technology will underpin a logistics network that can move hydrogen from production facilities to airports over existing freight infrastructure, eliminating the need for costly new pipelines, tankers and hydrogen storage facilities.”
Universal is also developing “powertrain conversion kits” that would allow two types of passenger turboprop aircraft to burn hydrogen. Those types are De Havilland Canada’s Dash 8-300 and ATR’s ATR 72.
Universal holds agreements with 11 airlines to retrofit “nearly 100 regional airplanes”. It aims for its conversion system to achieve Federal Aviation Administration certification by 2025.
After proving the design, the company intends to “apply its modular fuelling solution to larger commercial airplanes as well as drones, industrial equipment and ground transportation”, it says.
The aerospace industry is eyeing hydrogen fuel as a means of meeting aggressive carbon-reduction goals. When burned, hydrogen emits water.
Airbus has jumped onto the hydrogen train, announcing in 2020 a plan to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft for service entry in the 2030s.
Sceptics have noted the logistical and financial hurdles of transforming the aviation industry’s fuel infrastructure, and of certificating new aircraft. Also, hydrogen holds less energy by volume than does fossil fuel, possibly necessitating larger, heavier fuel tanks.
In September 2021, Universal revealed it was opening an engineering and design centre in Airbus’ home town of Toulouse, France.