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 .