Plans for Regional Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft

HES Energy Systems revealed its plans for Element One, the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft. They have been developing hydrogen propulsion systems for drones for the last 12 years.

Element One merges HES’ ultra-light hydrogen fuel cell technologies with a distributed electric aircraft propulsion design. With virtually no change to its current drone-scale systems, HES’ distributed system allows for modularity and increased safety through multiple system redundancies.

Element One is designed to fly 4 passengers for 500 km to 5000 km depending on whether hydrogen is stored in gaseous or liquid form. This performance is several orders of magnitude better than any battery-electric aircraft attempt so far, opening new aerial routes between smaller towns and rural areas using an existing and dense network of small-scale airports and aerodromes.

Refueling Element One will take no more than 10 minutes using an automated nacelle swap system that applies AGVs and automated warehouse operations such as those used by Amazon and Alibaba.

Last week, HES announced its plans to begin associating on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One. HES is now in discussion with industrial-scale hydrogen producers to explore energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally.

In an effort to explore new business models that help position Element One into new travel segments, HES has aligned its zero-carbon aviation roadmap with Wingly, a French startup that offers flight sharing services for decentralized and regional air travel: “We analyzed the millions of destination searches made by the community of 200,000 pilots and passengers on our platform and confirm there is a tremendous need for inter-regional transport between secondary cities”, says Emeric de Waziers, CEO of Wingly. “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%.”

Targeting a first flying prototype before 2025, HES is in the process of building a technical and commercial consortium involving both the aviation and hydrogen eco-systems.

Swappable gas pods

AEROPAK series comes in 4 standard storage configurations: swappable pod, gaseous, liquid hydride and solid hydride. The specific energy of such systems ranges between 450 Wh/kg and 752 Wh/kg .

78 thoughts on “Plans for Regional Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft”

  1. Not sure if local CO2 might have some effect on a city’s microclimate, but I meant more the pollution angle from other associated emissions. Depends which fuel you’re burning and under which burn conditions.

    Reply
  2. Not sure if local CO2 might have some effect on a city’s microclimate but I meant more the pollution angle from other associated emissions. Depends which fuel you’re burning and under which burn conditions.

    Reply
  3. I don’t see how local CO2 production is an issue. CO2 is only concerning people at a global level, so banning fuel use in a small local area doesn’t help at all if the same amount of fuel is burned overall.

    Reply
  4. I don’t see how local CO2 production is an issue. CO2 is only concerning people at a global level so banning fuel use in a small local area doesn’t help at all if the same amount of fuel is burned overall.

    Reply
  5. Well, towing a another airplane as a fuel tank doesn’t work either… If the poor power density is true (which eluded me so far) then in conclusion there’s no point in even trying fuel cell airplanes. A BEV airplanes are not good for much.

    Reply
  6. Well towing a another airplane as a fuel tank doesn’t work either…If the poor power density is true (which eluded me so far) then in conclusion there’s no point in even trying fuel cell airplanes. A BEV airplanes are not good for much.

    Reply
  7. Not sure if local CO2 might have some effect on a city’s microclimate, but I meant more the pollution angle from other associated emissions. Depends which fuel you’re burning and under which burn conditions.

    Reply
  8. My bet it is on methanol as a decent-ish compromise. It can use the same fuel tanks and probably the same engines as standard jet fuel, or it can be fed into a fuel cell. And in principle it could be made carbon-neutral, though that’d be more expensive.

    Reply
  9. My bet it is on methanol as a decent-ish compromise. It can use the same fuel tanks and probably the same engines as standard jet fuel or it can be fed into a fuel cell. And in principle it could be made carbon-neutral though that’d be more expensive.

    Reply
  10. Issues with batteries are horrible specific power (kwhr/kg) and the inability to quickly recharge. H2 for all its problems has good specific power (around 1kwhr/kg) and ability to quickly refill but H2 production is not financially viable. We use aviation kerosene and jet engines for many reasons. Crazy high specific energy fuel with lightweight tanks coupled to high efficiency lightweight engine. This combination lets us fly halfway around the world without worries.

    Reply
  11. Issues with batteries are horrible specific power (kwhr/kg) and the inability to quickly recharge.H2 for all its problems has good specific power (around 1kwhr/kg) and ability to quickly refill but H2 production is not financially viable.We use aviation kerosene and jet engines for many reasons. Crazy high specific energy fuel with lightweight tanks coupled to high efficiency lightweight engine. This combination lets us fly halfway around the world without worries.

    Reply
  12. As neat as it would be to reuse a fuel cell stack for something more modest (say a H2-elecctric Cessna) lets just all admit that it is economically dead on arrival. And airlines care first and foremost about economic viability.

    Reply
  13. As neat as it would be to reuse a fuel cell stack for something more modest (say a H2-elecctric Cessna) lets just all admit that it is economically dead on arrival.And airlines care first and foremost about economic viability.

    Reply
  14. Well as the NBF commenter who has talked about fuel cell-electric planes the most I can say that Solid Oxide Fuel Cells have absolutely horrible specific power. If you want to do some research google “bloom energy server es5-300 kw specifications” and note that the 300kW fuel cell has a weight of… wait for it… 15.4 tons. Yesiree 15.4 tons for 300kW of power. So state of the art commercial solid oxide fuel cells are totally unworkable for anything that flies. But do tell me more about how H2 fuel cells are nonviable. They give 1kwhr/kg which is on par with Al-air batteries.

    Reply
  15. Well as the NBF commenter who has talked about fuel cell-electric planes the most I can say that Solid Oxide Fuel Cells have absolutely horrible specific power.If you want to do some research google bloom energy server es5-300 kw specifications”” and note that the 300kW fuel cell has a weight of… wait for it…15.4 tons.Yesiree 15.4 tons for 300kW of power. So state of the art commercial solid oxide fuel cells are totally unworkable for anything that flies.But do tell me more about how H2 fuel cells are nonviable. They give 1kwhr/kg which is on par with Al-air batteries.”””

    Reply
  16. I don’t see how local CO2 production is an issue. CO2 is only concerning people at a global level, so banning fuel use in a small local area doesn’t help at all if the same amount of fuel is burned overall.

    Reply
  17. A non-viable H2 fuel cell system. SOFCs are for hydrocarbons. So you could high volumetric/gravimetry energy density fuels, which could be even better than in these measure than fuel burners. And definitely more efficient.

    Reply
  18. A non-viable H2 fuel cell system.SOFCs are for hydrocarbons. So you could high volumetric/gravimetry energy density fuels which could be even better than in these measure than fuel burners. And definitely more efficient.

    Reply
  19. Well, towing a another airplane as a fuel tank doesn’t work either…

    If the poor power density is true (which eluded me so far) then in conclusion there’s no point in even trying fuel cell airplanes. A BEV airplanes are not good for much.

    Reply
  20. I agree with the series hybrid idea. The series hybrid with a turbine range extender also lets you do all electric takeoffs and landings. Which isn’t useful NOW, but if electric flight does take off (see what I did there) then a number of places are going to start demanding, (or at least giving financial incentives) a fuel-less operation at their airport. Both for noise reasons (which make sense) and maybe CO2 reasons (which don’t make sense, because you just recharge as soon as you are out their jurisdiction.)

    Reply
  21. I agree with the series hybrid idea.The series hybrid with a turbine range extender also lets you do all electric takeoffs and landings. Which isn’t useful NOW but if electric flight does take off (see what I did there) then a number of places are going to start demanding (or at least giving financial incentives) a fuel-less operation at their airport. Both for noise reasons (which make sense) and maybe CO2 reasons (which don’t make sense because you just recharge as soon as you are out their jurisdiction.)

    Reply
  22. My bet it is on methanol as a decent-ish compromise. It can use the same fuel tanks and probably the same engines as standard jet fuel, or it can be fed into a fuel cell. And in principle it could be made carbon-neutral, though that’d be more expensive.

    Reply
  23. Issues with batteries are horrible specific power (kwhr/kg) and the inability to quickly recharge.

    H2 for all its problems has good specific power (around 1kwhr/kg) and ability to quickly refill but H2 production is not financially viable.

    We use aviation kerosene and jet engines for many reasons. Crazy high specific energy fuel with lightweight tanks coupled to high efficiency lightweight engine. This combination lets us fly halfway around the world without worries.

    Reply
  24. As neat as it would be to reuse a fuel cell stack for something more modest (say a H2-elecctric Cessna) lets just all admit that it is economically dead on arrival.

    And airlines care first and foremost about economic viability.

    Reply
  25. Well as the NBF commenter who has talked about fuel cell-electric planes the most I can say that Solid Oxide Fuel Cells have absolutely horrible specific power.

    If you want to do some research google “bloom energy server es5-300 kw specifications” and note that the 300kW fuel cell has a weight of… wait for it…

    15.4 tons.

    Yesiree 15.4 tons for 300kW of power. So state of the art commercial solid oxide fuel cells are totally unworkable for anything that flies.

    But do tell me more about how H2 fuel cells are nonviable. They give 1kwhr/kg which is on par with Al-air batteries.

    Reply
  26. A non-viable H2 fuel cell system.
    SOFCs are for hydrocarbons. So you could high volumetric/gravimetry energy density fuels, which could be even better than in these measure than fuel burners. And definitely more efficient.

    Reply
  27. I agree with the series hybrid idea.

    The series hybrid with a turbine range extender also lets you do all electric takeoffs and landings. Which isn’t useful NOW, but if electric flight does take off (see what I did there) then a number of places are going to start demanding, (or at least giving financial incentives) a fuel-less operation at their airport. Both for noise reasons (which make sense) and maybe CO2 reasons (which don’t make sense, because you just recharge as soon as you are out their jurisdiction.)

    Reply
  28. Electric/hydrogen planes might be a bit more practical if they were towed to altitude by a conventional engine plane/jet – in the same manner as a glider. If about 10% of energy is used to gain altitude – covering maybe 1/3rd the distance as when cruising at higher altitudes – this might give another 30% added to range, while still using maybe 1/10th as much fuel as a conventional craft on the same trip. Also, they should be able to cut back on the number of electric motors and fuel cells, reducing weight – which should give another solid boost to range. For larger craft, maybe a ‘limpet’ aircraft/drone attached directly to the main craft could provide the extra climbing power, then disconnect and land back at the starting airport. Essentially a first stage…

    Reply
  29. Electric/hydrogen planes might be a bit more practical if they were towed to altitude by a conventional engine plane/jet – in the same manner as a glider. If about 10{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} of energy is used to gain altitude – covering maybe 1/3rd the distance as when cruising at higher altitudes – this might give another 30{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} added to range while still using maybe 1/10th as much fuel as a conventional craft on the same trip.Also they should be able to cut back on the number of electric motors and fuel cells reducing weight – which should give another solid boost to range.For larger craft maybe a ‘limpet’ aircraft/drone attached directly to the main craft could provide the extra climbing power then disconnect and land back at the starting airport. Essentially a first stage…

    Reply
  30. Electric/hydrogen planes might be a bit more practical if they were towed to altitude by a conventional engine plane/jet – in the same manner as a glider. If about 10% of energy is used to gain altitude – covering maybe 1/3rd the distance as when cruising at higher altitudes – this might give another 30% added to range, while still using maybe 1/10th as much fuel as a conventional craft on the same trip.

    Also, they should be able to cut back on the number of electric motors and fuel cells, reducing weight – which should give another solid boost to range.

    For larger craft, maybe a ‘limpet’ aircraft/drone attached directly to the main craft could provide the extra climbing power, then disconnect and land back at the starting airport. Essentially a first stage…

    Reply
  31. The best powertrain I’ve seen is a turbine -> generator -> battery system -> electric motors Dump the hydrogen fuel cells and get some high end turbines in there. (The turbine is the “range extender” / battery charger) The awesome thing is that in this type of system you can burn virtually any fuel based on pricing at the time.

    Reply
  32. The best powertrain I’ve seen is a turbine -> generator -> battery system -> electric motorsDump the hydrogen fuel cells and get some high end turbines in there.(The turbine is the range extender”” / battery charger)The awesome thing is that in this type of system you can burn virtually any fuel based on pricing at the time.”””

    Reply
  33. You can only fit so much hydrogen in the fuel tanks. For longer range you need higher volumetric energy density, like LNG (22 MJ/L) or methanol (15 MJ/L). Ammonia has also been proposed here before, but it’s just barely better than hydrogen (11 MJ/L for liquid ammonia vs 9 MJ/L for compressed hydrogen).

    Reply
  34. You can only fit so much hydrogen in the fuel tanks. For longer range you need higher volumetric energy density like LNG (22 MJ/L) or methanol (15 MJ/L). Ammonia has also been proposed here before but it’s just barely better than hydrogen (11 MJ/L for liquid ammonia vs 9 MJ/L for compressed hydrogen).

    Reply
  35. I’d say both mass and volumetric energy density are important for planes. The less volumetric energy, the less energy can fit in the fuel tanks, which invariably have a limited volume. In other words, a flight shorter range. I’m not sure how the mass energy density affects range and other performance parameters. Perhaps there’s tradeoff with some optimal sweetspot.

    Reply
  36. I’d say both mass and volumetric energy density are important for planes. The less volumetric energy the less energy can fit in the fuel tanks which invariably have a limited volume. In other words a flight shorter range.I’m not sure how the mass energy density affects range and other performance parameters. Perhaps there’s tradeoff with some optimal sweetspot.

    Reply
  37. I can see hydrogen for longer range travel, but the fuel is not inexpensive (inherently a several fold multiple of battery electric). Short range flights I think are likely to be eventually dominated by battery electric craft from a purely cost perspective. I wonder what electric aircraft will do for safety, as many of the designs seem to show highly redundant propulsion and fewer moving parts.

    Reply
  38. I can see hydrogen for longer range travel but the fuel is not inexpensive (inherently a several fold multiple of battery electric). Short range flights I think are likely to be eventually dominated by battery electric craft from a purely cost perspective. I wonder what electric aircraft will do for safety as many of the designs seem to show highly redundant propulsion and fewer moving parts.

    Reply
  39. To transport 4 people we need 14 fuel and fuel cell modules at each airport. If this is a 500km range shuttle service at (say) 250 km/hr those modules need to be refilled in 4 hours, or we need even more of them. What are the economics of this? And what area of solar panels do we need at each airport – allowing for cloudy days?

    Reply
  40. To transport 4 people we need 14 fuel and fuel cell modules at each airport. If this is a 500km range shuttle service at (say) 250 km/hr those modules need to be refilled in 4 hours or we need even more of them. What are the economics of this? And what area of solar panels do we need at each airport – allowing for cloudy days?

    Reply
  41. Yep. Air travel is sensitive to airborne mass. … “HES plans to associate on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One.” In other words, there’s presently no infrastructure at the thousands of airports (the “90%”) that aren’t regularly serviced by commercial aircraft. Moreover, very few (if any) of the 10%, those airports that ARE commercial, have hydrogen refueling infrastructure, either. “Plans to associate” is corporate doublespeak for “well, if we keep talking it up, maybe we can attract angels to fund this great thing, someday”. “HES is discussing energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally with commercial hydrogen producers.” In other words, they’re streaming … an environmentally progressive narrative … with producers of hydrogen that aren’t in the LEAST bit interested in using the NOT superabundant solar and wind power to electrolytically generate hydrogen: a process which is no less than 3× more costly than methane water-shift thermo-chemical reaction, from which most hydrogen is produced today. ________________________________________ The “future of hydrogen” advocacy seems — to this old goat — to be perpetually in a state of readiness … to start … sometime soon… That, and ray-tracing cool blue not-existing aircraft, and you’re on your way. Just saying, GoatGuy

    Reply
  42. Yep. Air travel is sensitive to airborne mass.… “HES plans to associate on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One.”In other words there’s presently no infrastructure at the thousands of airports (the 90{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12}””) that aren’t regularly serviced by commercial aircraft. Moreover”” very few (if any) of the 10{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} those airports that ARE commercial have hydrogen refueling infrastructure either. “Plans to associate” is corporate doublespeak for “well if we keep talking it up maybe we can attract angels to fund this great thing someday”.“HES is discussing energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally with commercial hydrogen producers.”In other words they’re streaming … an environmentally progressive narrative … with producers of hydrogen that aren’t in the LEAST bit interested in using the NOT superabundant solar and wind power to electrolytically generate hydrogen: a process which is no less than 3× more costly than methane water-shift thermo-chemical reaction from which most hydrogen is produced today. ________________________________________The “future of hydrogen” advocacy seems — to this old goat — to be perpetually in a state of readiness … to start … sometime soon… That and ray-tracing cool blue not-existing aircraft and you’re on your way. Just saying””GoatGuy”””””””

    Reply
  43. Seems like energy density by weight (i.e. specific energy) is more important for airplanes, but by volume is more important for cars. That would make hydrogen perfect for airplanes. By volume it’s less energy-dense than hydrocarbon fuels, but by weight it stores more energy: 142 MJ/kg, compared to 46.4 for gasoline and a bit less for jet fuel. And since there are fewer airports than gas stations, infrastructure isn’t quite so challenging as with cars.

    Reply
  44. Seems like energy density by weight (i.e. specific energy) is more important for airplanes but by volume is more important for cars.That would make hydrogen perfect for airplanes. By volume it’s less energy-dense than hydrocarbon fuels but by weight it stores more energy: 142 MJ/kg compared to 46.4 for gasoline and a bit less for jet fuel. And since there are fewer airports than gas stations infrastructure isn’t quite so challenging as with cars.

    Reply
  45. The best powertrain I’ve seen is a turbine -> generator -> battery system -> electric motors

    Dump the hydrogen fuel cells and get some high end turbines in there.

    (The turbine is the “range extender” / battery charger)

    The awesome thing is that in this type of system you can burn virtually any fuel based on pricing at the time.

    Reply
  46. You can only fit so much hydrogen in the fuel tanks. For longer range you need higher volumetric energy density, like LNG (22 MJ/L) or methanol (15 MJ/L). Ammonia has also been proposed here before, but it’s just barely better than hydrogen (11 MJ/L for liquid ammonia vs 9 MJ/L for compressed hydrogen).

    Reply
  47. I’d say both mass and volumetric energy density are important for planes. The less volumetric energy, the less energy can fit in the fuel tanks, which invariably have a limited volume. In other words, a flight shorter range.

    I’m not sure how the mass energy density affects range and other performance parameters. Perhaps there’s tradeoff with some optimal sweetspot.

    Reply
  48. I can see hydrogen for longer range travel, but the fuel is not inexpensive (inherently a several fold multiple of battery electric). Short range flights I think are likely to be eventually dominated by battery electric craft from a purely cost perspective. I wonder what electric aircraft will do for safety, as many of the designs seem to show highly redundant propulsion and fewer moving parts.

    Reply
  49. To transport 4 people we need 14 fuel and fuel cell modules at each airport. If this is a 500km range shuttle service at (say) 250 km/hr those modules need to be refilled in 4 hours, or we need even more of them. What are the economics of this? And what area of solar panels do we need at each airport – allowing for cloudy days?

    Reply
  50. Yep. Air travel is sensitive to airborne mass.

    … “HES plans to associate on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One.”

    In other words, there’s presently no infrastructure at the thousands of airports (the “90%”) that aren’t regularly serviced by commercial aircraft. Moreover, very few (if any) of the 10%, those airports that ARE commercial, have hydrogen refueling infrastructure, either. “Plans to associate” is corporate doublespeak for “well, if we keep talking it up, maybe we can attract angels to fund this great thing, someday”.

    “HES is discussing energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally with commercial hydrogen producers.”

    In other words, they’re streaming … an environmentally progressive narrative … with producers of hydrogen that aren’t in the LEAST bit interested in using the NOT superabundant solar and wind power to electrolytically generate hydrogen: a process which is no less than 3× more costly than methane water-shift thermo-chemical reaction, from which most hydrogen is produced today.
    ________________________________________

    The “future of hydrogen” advocacy seems — to this old goat — to be perpetually in a state of readiness … to start … sometime soon…

    That, and ray-tracing cool blue not-existing aircraft, and you’re on your way.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy

    Reply
  51. Seems like energy density by weight (i.e. specific energy) is more important for airplanes, but by volume is more important for cars.

    That would make hydrogen perfect for airplanes. By volume it’s less energy-dense than hydrocarbon fuels, but by weight it stores more energy: 142 MJ/kg, compared to 46.4 for gasoline and a bit less for jet fuel.

    And since there are fewer airports than gas stations, infrastructure isn’t quite so challenging as with cars.

    Reply
  52. Not sure if local CO2 might have some effect on a city’s microclimate, but I meant more the pollution angle from other associated emissions. Depends which fuel you’re burning and under which burn conditions.

    Reply
  53. Not sure if local CO2 might have some effect on a city’s microclimate but I meant more the pollution angle from other associated emissions. Depends which fuel you’re burning and under which burn conditions.

    Reply
  54. I don’t see how local CO2 production is an issue. CO2 is only concerning people at a global level, so banning fuel use in a small local area doesn’t help at all if the same amount of fuel is burned overall.

    Reply
  55. I don’t see how local CO2 production is an issue. CO2 is only concerning people at a global level so banning fuel use in a small local area doesn’t help at all if the same amount of fuel is burned overall.

    Reply
  56. Well, towing a another airplane as a fuel tank doesn’t work either… If the poor power density is true (which eluded me so far) then in conclusion there’s no point in even trying fuel cell airplanes. A BEV airplanes are not good for much.

    Reply
  57. Well towing a another airplane as a fuel tank doesn’t work either…If the poor power density is true (which eluded me so far) then in conclusion there’s no point in even trying fuel cell airplanes. A BEV airplanes are not good for much.

    Reply

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