VFS Advances Hydrogen-Electric Flight
By VFS Staff
Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2023
During the US Air Force’s Agility Prime Launch Event in April 2020 (see “Agile Change in Air Force ‘Agility Prime’ Launch Pays Off,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2020), a presentation by VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg mentioned that the potential of hydrogen fuel cells to be a gamechanger for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) led to the founding a few weeks later of what became the Society’s H2eVTOL Council. Today, that has grown into two thriving initiatives: the HYSKY Society and the H2-Aero Team.
At the Agility Prime Launch, a number of VFS members discussed the progression of hydrogen fuel cell technology and that it appeared to be at a tipping point for eVTOL aircraft. A series of planning and educational web meetings were held, led by Danielle McLean (CEO of Happy Takeoff) and Dr. Anubhav Datta (University of Maryland), as the chair of the VFS Electric VTOL Technical Committee.
The H2eVTOL Council held its first public webmeeting in January 2021, led by co-chairs McLean and Michael Dyment, Founder and Managing Partner of NEXA Capital Partners. The first year featured insightful educational monthly webinars (see “The H2eVTOL Council’s Pioneering Year,” Vertiflite, Jan/ Feb 2022). After rapid growth to more than 200 engineers and leaders from eVTOL developers, professional societies, universities and government agencies, the team expanded into two separate, parallel initiatives — the other called the H2-Aero Team (see below).
The Society’s H2eVTOL Council continued to meet regularly in 2022 as it expanded to more than 400 participants. VFS assisted the group in spinning off into an independent 501(c)(3) charitable educational non-profit, the HYSKY Society, which is now open for memberships and is accepting donations. All of the webinar recordings are available for free for VFS and HYSKY members or for purchase by the public.
The HYSKY Society will continue to focus on the advancement of hydrogen fuel cell technology in the eVTOL sector, but now has the autonomy and resources to expand its reach and impact. The H2eVTOL Council’s monthly meetings, which have been held on the third Mondays of the month, are now known as HYSKY Monthly and will feature distinguished speakers from the hydrogen, aviation and eVTOL aircraft sectors.
The HYSKY Society’s mission is to promote the development and advancement of hydrogen fuel cell technology in eVTOL aircraft, and to advocate for the use of hydrogen as a clean, sustainable and safe energy source for the aviation industry. The organization will also work to educate and inform the public about the benefits of hydrogen-powered eVTOL aircraft and the role they will play in shaping the future of transportation.
The HYSKY Society is founded and led by McLean, a leading expert in the field of hydrogen fuel cell technology and eVTOL aircraft. McLean brings over a decade of experience in the industry and a passion for advancing clean and sustainable transportation solutions.
“We are thrilled to see the H2eVTOL Council, started in May 2020 by VFS member Danielle McLean, now grow and evolve into its own independent organization,” said VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg in a press release. “The HYSKY Society, under Danielle’s leadership, will continue to be a vital partner of the Vertical Flight Society and we look forward to working together to advance the eVTOL industry.”
In addition to its HYSKY Monthly webinars, the HYSKY Society is now planning FLYING HY, a virtual conference on June 21–23. HYSKY calls it “the premier event for the hydrogen aviation industry,” and expects more than 1,000 attendees and 100 presentations. VFS is a Black Level Sponsor of FLYING HY.
Learn more at www.hysky.org.
Although the European Union is investing billions of euros and the UK government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds sterling into hydrogen aviation, there is nearly zero federal government dollars being invested in the United States. Because hydrogen fuel cells would be such a gamechanger for eVTOL, VFS has been supporting these broad hydrogen aviation initiatives.
In January 2022, VFS spun the H2-Aero Team out of the H2eVTOL Council to work the critical issue of hydrogen refueling at airports, and held the first hydrogen aviation conference in North America in March 2022, the 1st H2-Aero Workshop in Long Beach, California. A major outcome of the workshop was the initiation of a groundbreaking whitepaper that outlines a ground vehicle and aircraft hydrogen hub as a model to commercialize a hydrogen airport.
After nine months of work, VFS published the whitepaper in December. The goal of the VFS H2-Aero whitepaper, “Multimodal Hydrogen Airport Hub,” is to propose a repeatable hydrogen hub for the airport, first with a ground vehicle fueling station, and later expanding to an airport-based hub supplying multiple modes of transportation.
“VFS recognized in January 2022 the need to create a whitepaper for hydrogen at the airport as fuel cells are nearing the point of viability for aircraft. So, we formed the H2-Aero Team to address commercialization needs,” said Hirschberg in a press release. “We’re thrilled to publish this whitepaper from the H2-Aero Team that could help accelerate the transition to hydrogen in aviation.”
“To stimulate the transition to hydrogen in aviation, it is advantageous to create a multimodal ecosystem at the airport. The H2-Aero whitepaper proposes using a ground vehicle station as an ‘anchor’ or starting point that would later grow into a Hydrogen Hub to serve the entire airport,” stated Jesse Schneider, the H2-Aero Team’s Chair, and CEO of ZEV Station. “The whitepaper gives the first complete overview of hydrogen storage per transportation type and status of standards to assist entities to appropriately size H2-Hub in stages.”
The H2-Aero Team ultimately seeks to lay the framework for hydrogen airport demonstrations in the form of a public-private partnership to help validate the fueling and aircraft technology. To continue supporting the H2-Aero Team’s vision and mission, VFS will hold the 2nd Annual H2-Aero Symposium on March 28–30, in Long Beach, California. Like the first meeting, the 2023 symposium will feature two days of groundbreaking presentations with the latest cutting-edge developments by a who’s who of the hydrogen aviation and fuel cell community. Presentations on fuel cell aircraft technology, demonstrations and hydrogen hubs for airports will be held on March 28–29, and lay out the next steps for the H2-Aero Team.
As a plus, there will be a unique tour for attendees of the Shell heavy-duty vehicle hydrogen fueling facility at the Port of Long Beach on Thursday morning, March 30. Following this, VFS is supporting SAE International, which will hold an all-day meeting of its new AE-5CH Hydrogen Airport Taskgroup — conference attendees and members are all welcome to attend. The taskgroup’s goal is to work between the aircraft and hydrogen industries towards standardization of hydrogen related to the whole value chain at the airport.
Learn more at www.vtol.org/h2symposium.
Aircraft emissions equate to approximately 10% of US transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of overall. By 2050, it is expected that commercial aircraft emissions could increase to over 22% of the world’s total CO2 emissions. Since the average aircraft life is 30 years, it hastens the need to replace fossil fuels and their powerplants as soon as possible. To abate this impending reality, the VFS-supported hydrogen initiatives are working to help decarbonize aviation using zero-emission propulsion (e.g., fuel cells) fueled by carbon-free hydrogen.
In addition to its revolutionary sustainability benefits, hydrogen is an absolute gamechanger for eVTOL aircraft. Hydrogen has a much higher specific energy than batteries, translating to longer flights and heavier payloads.
Although multiple hydrogen councils, consortia and government bodies have published white papers and roadmaps with useful information, they rarely mention aviation. VFS’s hydrogen initiatives are the first substantive effort by a nonprofit in North America to put significant effort into bringing hydrogen to aviation. The Council is engaging with the government, industry and academic organizations to ensure that H2 for eVTOL is not forgotten — because aviation has been the slowest transportation industry to decarbonize and stands to benefit the most from hydrogen.
Learn more about these two initiatives and how you can get involved, as well as the whitepaper and upcoming meetings, at www.vtol.org/hydrogen.