Pioneers of hydrogen-powered flight


The Stuttgart-based start-up H2FLY, which develops hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircraft, and the new aircraft manufacturer Deutsche Aircraft want to build the world’s first electric hydrogen regional aircraft by 2025. It will have space for 40 passengers and a range of 2,000 km. On April 12, 2022, the first four-seater prototype of the hydrogen-powered electric aircraft took off and covered the 124 km route between the commercial airports of Stuttgart and Friedrichshafen at a record altitude of 2.2 km.

According to Josef Kallo, Managing Director of H2FLY, this is a remarkable achievement, as no other hydrogen-powered passenger aircraft has ever flown between two commercial airports. Only a few hydrogen-powered aircraft have been in the air worldwide to date, especially as there are not many pilots who are both familiar with the fuel cell and can handle the aircraft well. With this world record, the passenger aircraft named HY4 has reached an important milestone on the way to more climate-friendly air travel.

Before HY4, there was already the HY2. H2FLY and Deutsche Aircraft see the potential to further scale the technology and increase the size of the aircraft. Let’s hope that the HY40 comes true by 2025. However, there are still many problems to solve, as having a fuel cell on board not only means additional weight. The hydrogen can only be carried in compressed or liquefied form and in larger tanks than before. Liquid hydrogen also requires permanent cooling at minus 250 degrees. In addition, the wings can no longer be used as tanks as before. This requires a new aerodynamic aircraft design and a new hydrogen infrastructure would also have to be set up at airports.

Nevertheless, new solutions are needed. Aviation is considered one of the fastest growing causes of greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, regulatory authorities around the world are pushing for environmentally friendly aviation and net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Others are also currently researching hydrogen aircraft, such as the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Zeroavia from the UK and Airbus. The latter wants to launch a hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035.

Doris Höflich, Market Intelligence Senior Expert