Now airborne, Universal Hydrogen looks ahead to ATR commercialization

Technical challenges and configuration decisions lay ahead for the startup's first exclusively hydrogen powered regional aircraft retrofit.

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Release Date
March 20, 2023
Now airborne, Universal Hydrogen looks ahead to ATR commercialization
The views on hydrogen aviation fall somewhere on the spectrum from Eremenko to Epstein. On one end, Universal Hydrogen CEO and founder Paul Eremenko, a true believer in the necessity of hydrogen as aviation’s future fuel source. On the other, Alan Epstein, retired vice president of Technology & Environment at Pratt & Whitney and a former professor of Eremenko’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“An aviation-size, worldwide hydrogen supply and airliners capable of using it are decades and trillions of dollars away,” wrote Epstein in a 2021 Aviation Week op-ed, broadly dismissing the idea of the universe’s most abundant element as a serious low-carbon fuel source for flying.

Related: Making sense of aviation’s vibe shift to hydrogen

Epstein fairly characterizes the scale of the challenge in shifting from Jet A to hydrogen, and airplane makers’ assessments of the feasibility of a single-aisle hydrogen airliner range from tentatively optimistic (Airbus) to tepid (Boeing). But that OEM reticence is also core to UH’s pitch. “By demonstrating it’s possible to do something with current technology and existing airplanes,” the company aims to “trigger the debate about where the industry has to go for the replacement of single-aisle airplanes,” said Chief Technology Officer Mark Cousin.

With the successful first flight on March 2 of a De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 partially powered by gaseous hydrogen, UH has demonstrated that it’s possible to do something with current technology and existing airplanes. Yet, that flight was only a prelude to its next goal: demonstrating that it’s possible to do something practical with them. In the next two years, UH aims to field an extensive supplemental type certificate (STC) kit to modify the ATR 72-600 turboprop with a 2-MW hydrogen electric powertrain. The company hopes that will create an early market for its ultimate product: self-contained hydrogen modules that it believes will accelerate aviation’s transition to the alternative fuel.

During a series of interviews over the last year with The Air Current, Eremenko and Cousin outlined the attributes and technical challenges ahead for their first commercial venture, providing exclusive insight into how a hydrogen-powered ATR 72 will work in practice.

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