American Airlines Invests In Hydrogen-Electric Propulsion Developer


American Airlines is investing in in hydrogen-electric propulsion developer ZeroAvia, stating that the move is part of its path to reach its climate goals including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. In addition, the companies have signed a memorandum of understanding that gives American the option to order up to 100 hydrogen-electric propulsion systems from ZeroAvia. According to the airline, the powertrains are “intended to power regional jet aircraft with zero emissions.”

“Our investment in ZeroAvia’s emerging hydrogen-electric engine technology has the potential to play a key role in the future of sustainable aviation,” said American Airlines Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr. “We are excited to contribute to this industry development and look forward to exploring how these engines can support the future of our airline as we build American Airlines to thrive forever.”

ZeroAvia is aiming to have its ZA2000-RJ powertrain, which it says will be capable of powering 40- to 80-seat aircraft with a 1,000-NM range, in service on regional jets “as early as the late 2020s.” The company noted that American’s investment, the exact amount of which was not made public, brings its Series B funding round to over $150 million. As previously reported by AVweb, ZeroAvia completed the first hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a “commercial-grade” aircraft in September 2020 using a Piper Malibu modified with a 250-kW hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.

The company has continued testing, reporting that its HyFlyer I flight test program accomplished all of its technical goals, although the Piper Malibu testbed suffered a power failure that resulted in an off-airport landing in April 2021. Last summer, ZeroAvia acquired two Dornier 228 twin turboprops to use as test beds for its Hyflyer II program, which will test a 600-kW hydrogen-electric powerplant.

Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Hydrogen-electric is the best long term solution for emissions, noise and endurance in aviation. Electric motors today are 3 times more efficient at converting energy to mechanical motion than internal combustion engines and much quieter. Hydrogen fuel cells are far more efficient energy generators than lithium ion batteries, have far greater range/endurance and far better charging times. Hydrogen is the most plentiful fuel in the universe, unlike lithium, and the USA doesn’t have to import it. Manufacturing, storing and transporting hydrogen has been the problem so far. If we divert the money going into lithium battery technology to hydrogen technology, we can overcome the problems associated with hydrogen production and distribution, just like we did with automobile gasoline.

    • You said “Hydrogen fuel cells are far more efficient energy generators than lithium ion batteries, have far greater range/endurance and far better charging times”.
      Of course the fuel cells can directly provide the power to the powerplant, are you suggesting that batteries are also carried – explanation please.

      • There is a developing technology that extracts hydrogen from smokestacks. Wind and solar power might also find their niche in electrolysis. Metal hydrides R&D is getting closer to providing lightweight solid-state ambient temperature storage for hydrogen. Those aren’t Whittle and Jumo turbojets powering our jetliners.

      • Think of hydrogen as a commodity industrial chemical. Markets will form, new processes will get developed. It helps that energy grid planners are looking at hydrogen as an energy storage method. That will encourage ways to produce hydrogen using renewable energy during excess production peaks.

        There are four groups of hydrogen production technologies:
        1. Thermochemical Routes to Hydrogen.
        2. Electrolytic Routes to Hydrogen
        3. Biological Routes to Hydrogen
        4. Solar to Fuels Routes to Hydrogen

        Source: “Options for producing low-carbon hydrogen at scale”, 08 February 2018, royalsociety dot org.

        Get a good carbon tax in place, remove protection for legacy industries, and watch the free market come up with low-carbon ways to produce hydrogen.

  2. “Hydrogen hype defies reality: it’s an impractical energy source” Troy Media. These airplanes, if they ever fly, will need massive amounts of hot air and taxpayer funding. Frack everywhere and we’ll have $1/gallon Jet-A and Mogas. Now that would be something worth reporting. I paid $1.65 for a gallon of gas in South Carolina only two years ago, when we had the Real President Trump in the WH. Airbus is pandering to the greenies and chasing government subsidies. Boeing just moved its HQ from one swamp (Chicago) to another (D.C.), so they are likely now doing the same.

  3. This is simply more paying their “woke” dues with customer’s fare money, and kissing the butts of various overriding government agencies. It would be really informative if AvWeb would publish a list of all these companies they reported on in the past 10 years, how much money they siphoned off and from whom (government tax payers or private funding), how long they lasted and when they went tango uniform. Let’s see the list and records.

    • Not sure AVweb is really the right group, but I think you might be proposing something worth doing. My thought was to map a network of the who’s who involved. I bet a lot of lines lead back and forth between principals, family members, cronies, and government officials. Its looking like someone had done a good job on Fauci’s network even after the outbreak, we likely could have spared the world a lot of pain.

      Following the money isn’t always fruitful, but it very often is.

    • The political excesses around a technology shouldn’t blind us to its usefulness. The simplicity and available redundancy of a hybrid hydrogen-electric aircraft are desirable traits; a small battery between fuel cell and motor could see you safely to the ground should the fuel cell crap out. Electric motors can be stacked. Go look again at the stats for injuries and fatalities when the internal combustion engine fails, and tell me a simpler and more reliable alternative isn’t worth reaching for.

      • I think the important thing is the basic belief that people risking their own capital is a sign of a marketable technology, while these deals like the one announced here are rather suspicious.
        People have made total con job companies based on good science, although I don’t think those people often accidentally succeed.