The Dash 8 Will Be Powered by Hydrogen by The End of the Year, According to Universal Hydrogen
By the end of this year, Universal Hydrogen plans to fly the world's first hydrogen-powered regional airliner with a hydrogen-fuel-cell powertrain integrated into De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprops' nacelles. At Universal Hydrogen's facility in Hawthorne, California, the powertrain architecture is being tested in an iron bird test rig. From Moses Lake, Washington, Aerotec will integrate the engine and fly the aircraft.
With the Dash 8, Universal Hydrogen will use the same powertrain architecture used in the iron bird testing. He called the decision to house the entire 1-megawatt powertrain, including the fuel cell, in the nacelle “critical” for the airplane’s commercial viability.
This path was chosen for the test aircraft because putting the fuel cell in the fuselage would have compromised seat count and failed to produce "real learning" about how to achieve its goal of containing powertrains in nacelles.
He chuckled, "We're not doing this easy.". The engine was removed from the aircraft a while ago, we have received all of the parts from the suppliers, and we are now literally rebuilding the powertrain in the empty engine nacelle. MagniX supplies the electric motors for the powertrain, while Plug Power provides the hydrogen fuel cells.
The ATR 72 is also being developed by Universal Hydrogen in Toulouse, France, which will integrate virtually the same powertrain design into the Italian-French turboprop, giving it the same range as the modified Dash 8. In order to develop and test its "modular logistics technology," Universal uses ATR.
Modules made by the company store hydrogen during transit and function as fuel tanks on aircraft. Using the existing intermodal freight network and cargo handling equipment, modular fueling eliminates the need for expensive and time-consuming hydrogen fueling infrastructure at airports.
“By turning hydrogen into cargo, we create a capital-light hydrogen distribution infrastructure that leverages existing global, intermodal, containerized freight networks,” Williams explained. “The modules are loaded onto the aircraft, they're latched down, and then serve as a fuel tank within the aircraft to supply the fuel to the powertrain...So when you land at your destination, you take the modules off and ship them back to the production site, where you refill them with hydrogen, and then you deliver them back to the same or a different airport to refuel the next aircraft.”
Testing and development schedules call for supplemental type certification for the ATR in 2025, said Williams, explaining that market demand drove the decision to pursue certification for that model before the Dash 8. A firm order for 75 ATR 72-600 regional turboprops has been placed by Massachusetts-based regional carrier Connect Airlines, Universal Hydrogen announced in June. The airline plans to operate De Havilland Dash 8-400s from points in the Northeast and Midwest of the U.S. to Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport by the end of the year.
Williams noted that Universal will work with Connect Airways to help source the ATRs for conversion.
Additionally, Universal Hydrogen is preparing to open a new manufacturing and distribution center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A 50-acre greenfield site at the city's main airport has been selected by the company and the state's governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham. It plans to start production in 2024 and hire 500 employees over the next seven years at the $254 million facility. About 100 people are employed by Universal today.