Dassault's Support Boosted The H2 Clipper's Hydrogen Airship

Dassault's Support Boosted The H2 Clipper's Hydrogen Airship
Courtesy by H2 Clipper

This week, Dassault Systèmes selected H2 Clipper to join its 3DExperience Lab accelerator program in order to accelerate its plans to market a hydrogen-powered airship. By using its planned design, the company says freight, as well as hydrogen supplies for other users, will be transported seven to 10 times faster than shipments by ship or truck, and at a 70 percent lower cost than by using existing cargo aircraft.

With speeds of 175 mph and a cargo volume of 265,000 cubic feet, the proposed H2 Clipper airship would have a range of 6,000 miles. Using payloads of 245 tons over 1,000 miles or 170 tons over 6,000 miles, the company expects its operating costs to be between 17 and 25 cents per ton-mile. In addition to the total lifting capacity, the range to payload ratio will be determined by the amount of fuel required for the desired flight distance.

It is expected that the H2 Clipper team will complete a detailed design and have a 40 percent sub-scale prototype ready for flight testing in 2024, if sufficient funds are raised.  However, it has not yet indicated when it plans to have its as-yet-unnamed airship certified for commercial service by 2027.


Among the benefits of joining Dassault Systèmes' 3DExperience Lab is the opportunity to use Catia design software, Solidworks for design and system engineering, and Delmia and Simulia for manufacturing and simulation. Despite being part of a French aerospace group that makes business jets like the Dassault Falcon and fighter aircraft like the Rafale, the company has not disclosed whether it plans to invest directly in H2 Clipper, which was awarded its first patent in 2012 for its technology. As a result of its participation in the 3DExperience Lab, more than 100 engineers will now be recruited to the start-up.

According to Dassault Systèmes' head of innovation Frédéric Vacher, the company selects companies for its accelerator program based on their ability to demonstrate significant technological breakthroughs, as well as having the potential to positively impact and transform society in alignment with the UN's 2030 vision for sustainable development.

A hydrogen fuel cell and a photovoltaic array drive the H2 Clipper's propulsion system, whose electric motors turn propellers and which draw power from proton exchange membrane fuel cells and solar power. Hydrogen serves as both a fuel source and a lift gas, which maximizes both the efficiency and buoyancy of the airship, according to the company.

An aft-mounted motor has an eight-bladed propeller, plus four side-mounted motors with six blades each. The combined horsepower output of these engines is 33,200 horsepower. To provide low-speed maneuvering control, the side motors can be activated independently. The H2 Clipper uses fly-by-wire flight controls and is expected to be supported by a trio of fins on its aft end.

The airship does not have a typical external gondola compartment in order to achieve higher speeds and better fuel efficiency. For loading and unloading, a fixed rail system will be used to facilitate the loading and unloading of the H2 Clipper's vast internal volume.

As an alternative to pipelines or dedicated supertankers, H2 Clipper expects its airship to be able to transport liquefied or gaseous hydrogen supplies around the world before volumes are high enough to justify a massive investment.  Founder and CEO Rinaldo Brutoco said that H2 Clipper has been working on hydrogen infrastructure issues for more than a decade. The 3D Experience Lab accelerator program has selected us as a member. In order to realize the disruptive potential of hydrogen, this will provide us with a rapidly scalable hydrogen infrastructure solution that will greatly assist us."

As neither the FAA nor EASA have regulations specifically formulated for commercial airships, the company faces a challenge in obtaining certification for the H2 Clipper. The H2 Clipper may need to pursue initial type certification outside the United States due to FAA restrictions on hydrogen use as a lifting gas. The company maintains that these restrictions do not address the modern materials and safety systems the aircraft will use. It appears that hydrogen as a lifting gas can be approved under special conditions issued by EASA in February 2021.

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