Shell, Amazon, and United Airlines among host of big name firms backing zero emission plane developer in its latest funding round
ZeroAvia has netted another $35m injection from a host of major companies to help further develop its hydrogen-electric aircraft technology, with United Airlines, Alaska Air Group, Shell, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund among investors named in its latest funding round today.
The zero emission plane developer said the latest funding round had brought its total investment to date up to $115m, as interest in the development of greener alternatives to conventional, fossil fuelled flight continues to grow.
The company said it was on track to achieving commercialisation of its hydrogen propulsion technology for smaller, 10 to 20-seat passenger planes capable of travelling 500 miles in one journey in 2024, with a view to then expanding its use for heavier planes and longer distances.
The latest funding round, it said, is aimed at supporting development of its technology for 40 to 80 seat aircraft, for which it is targeting commercialisation of “turboprops” by 2026 and regional jets by 2028.
Other investors in the latest funding round include AP Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Horizon Ventures, and Summa Equity.
ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov said the latest $35m funding would also help the company further ramp up its presence across its US, UK, and continental European locations.
“We are very excited to welcome our new investors, including one of the world’s largest airlines in United, into the ZeroAvia family,” he said. “As we prepare for ground and flight testing of our first commercial intent product in the coming weeks, this backing by our investors will enable us to accelerate delivery of our engine for larger aircraft. We are tremendously grateful to all our investors who are helping us achieve our mission – a world where every aircraft is powered by hydrogen-electric engines, delivering a true zero-emission future for flying.”
The hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in the hydrogen fuel cell in order to power an electric motor, a process which produces zero carbon emissions during operation. The process is therefore being touted by ZeroAvia as a potentially much greener alternative to fossil-fuelled planes, although the technology has yet to be demonstrated at scale and is not at present thought to be suitable for larger planes or travelling longer distances.
ZeroAvia said it was accelerating development of its hydrogen-electric engines, with a plan to “soon begin” ground tests of a smaller prototype engine in a 19-seat aircraft, before entering the technology into commercial service by 2024.
It follows a successful “world first” test flight of a fuel cell-powered, commercial-grade aircraft carried out by ZeroAvia in September, and the firm claims it has now secured experimental certificates for two such prototype aircraft from aviation regulators in both the US and the UK.
United Airlines’ investment has seen it take an undisclosed equity stake in ZeroAvia and is accompanied by a prospective agreement to buy up to 100 hydrogen-electric aircraft to help support its goal of delivering zero carbon aviation on its regional flights by 2050 without relying on carbon offsets.
Although currently still under development, ZeroAvia’s 100 per cent hydrogen-electric ZA2000-RJ engines could be fitted to existing United Express regional aircraft by as soon as 2028, potentially on the firm’s 50-seater CRJ-550 models, according to the company.
The deal announced today includes a conditional purchase agreement for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines with an option for 50 more, which would altogether be enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft operated by United Express partners, once certified by regulators, United Airlines said.
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines. “United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions that the entire industry can adopt.”
The announcement comes just weeks after United Airlines completed a commercial passenger flight between Chicago and Washington D.C. which used 100 per cent waste-derived biofuels in one of its two engines, with the firm aiming to ramp up its investment and use of sustainable aviation fuels in the coming years.