Universal Hydrogen to convert 15-plus airliners to run on H2 pods
Universal Hydrogen has signed letters of intent with three airlines to convert more than 15 regional airliners to run on green hydrogen. The company is developing conversion kits that accept interchangeable hydrogen modules that work like recyclable coffee pods.
The aircraft in question will be De Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, or Dash-8. Universal Hydrogen has been working on a Dash-8 kit for some time now, replacing the standard plane's Pratt & Whitney turboprops and jet fuel tanks with a pair of two-megawatt Magnix electric motors, a hefty fuel cell and a modular hydrogen fuel system whose tanks pop in and out like great big seven-foot (2 m) long Nespresso pods. That's a comparison the company seems keen to push, as evidenced by this recent Reuters interview.
The hydrogen conversion takes up some space – the Dash-8's cabin shrinks from 56 seats to 40 – but these planes will offer a groundbreaking emissions-free travel service up to range figures around 460 miles (740 km). That covers about 75 percent of current routes flown by Dash-8s, says Universal, and they could extend that to 95 percent when they get liquid hydrogen figured out.
The company has signed letters of intent with Spain's Air Nostrum for 11 aircraft, Ravn Alaska for 5 aircraft, and Icelandair Group for an unspecified "fleet" of planes. All these deals would also establish Universal as the hydrogen pod service provider.
No terms for the deals have been announced, and while this does seem like good news for clean aviation, evtol.com has found some reasons to pump the brakes on the hype train here. LOIs are preliminary, non-binding and often highly provisional.
And one of the companies involved, Ravn Alaska, is only a year out of bankruptcy, and its new owners have also signed a LOI for 50 electric STOL aircraft from Airflow, and told employees in a leaked briefing that it was also planning to run a low-cost carrier using Boeing 757s. Ambition clearly isn't a problem here, but delivering on all these plans will require enormous funds.
Still, if these plans come to fruition, and Universal does manage to "bring hydrogen-powered Dash-8s to our skies in the next several years," as Icelandair President and CEO Nils Bogason hopes, it would certainly seem like an inflection point in this very exciting new technology, and there will certainly be passengers ready to choose a greener option.
Source: Universal Hydrogen