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Hydrogen-electric plane could carry 4 passengers 5,000km

02 October, 2018

A French-Singaporean specialist in hydrogen-based propulsion systems for drones has announced plans to develop world’s first hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft designed to serve regional routes. HES Energy Systems says that its Element One aircraft will be able to carry up to four passengers for distances of 500–5,000km, depending on whether it stores hydrogen in a gaseous or liquid form.

HES, which has been developing for hydrogen-powered drones for more than a decade, hopes to fly its first passenger-carrying prototype by 2025. It predicts that the aircraft’s performance will be “several orders of magnitude” better than any battery-electric aircraft to date, opening up new routes between smaller towns and rural areas using existing small airports and airfields.

The zero-emission Element One aircraft will combine HES’ ultra-light hydrogen fuel cell technologies with distributed electric propulsion. Few changes will be needed to the distributed technology that HES already uses for its drone systems. A modular design will enhance safety by providing multiple system redundancies.

Refuelling will take less than 10 minutes using an automated nacelle swap system, similar to those already used for AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) and automated warehouse systems.

“It’s now possible to break past the endurance limits of battery-electric flight using HES’ ultra-light hydrogen energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement,” says the company’s founder, Taras Wankewycz. “Element One’s design paves the way for renewable hydrogen as a long-range fuel for electric aviation.”

HES has been working with several French start-ups and SMEs over the past year and is assembling a technical and commercial consortium involving both aviation and hydrogen specialists.

HES’ Element One long-range electric aircraft will be powered by a distributed hydrogen-electric propulsion system.
Photo: Business Wire

HES is exploring various locations to develop Element One, including the aviation r&d hub in Toulouse, France. The company recently announced plans to start combining on-site hydrogen generation with fuel-cell-powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger electric aircraft, such as Element One. It is talking to hydrogen producers to explore energy-efficient refuelling systems using locally generated renewable solar or wind energy.

HES is also working with Wingly, a French start-up that offers flight-sharing services for decentralised and regional air travel. “We analysed the millions of destination searches made by the community of 200,000 pilots and passengers on our platform, and can confirm there is a tremendous need for inter-regional transport between secondary cities,” says Wingly’s CEO, Emeric de Waziers. “By combining autonomous emission-free aircraft – such as Element One – digital community-based platforms like Wingly, and the existing high-density network of airfields, we can change the paradigm. France alone offers a network of more than 450 airfields, but only 10% of these are connected by regular airlines. We will simply connect the remaining 90%.”

HES Energy Systems, which has been operating in Singapore since 2009, specialises in developing high-performance hydrogen fuel-cell systems to extend the flying range of autonomous aerial vehicles. It has an expertise in developing ultra-light fuel cells and hydrogen energy storage systems used by drone manufacturers and aerospace institutes around the world. It has developed various hydrogen storage techniques for on-board, off-grid or portable energy.

The Element One could be refuelled quickly by exchanging nacelles containing hydrogen produced locally using renewable energy.
Photo: Business Wire

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