Meet The World’s First Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft: Element One

OCT 3 2018 BY MARK KANE 34

Here is the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft concept.

It’s been quite some time since the LZ 129 Hindenburg and it seems that there is a new wave of daredevils that would like to make hydrogen fly again.

The new approach is, of course, not to use the hydrogen element (the lightest element) to lift the aircraft up, but to make electricity in fuel cells, for electric motors that propel the…umm…propellers.

Singapore’s HES Energy Systems presents the Element One, the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft. The ultra-light Element One can take up to four passengers and is envisioned for fully autonomous flying.

Range – depending on whether hydrogen is stored in gaseous or liquid form – is to be from 500 km (310 miles) to 5,000 km (3,100 miles). Refueling will take some 10 minutes.

HES Energy Systems said that it worked on the project for 12 years and intends to build the first flying prototype before 2025, which means another 7 years. We will not even guess how many more years will be needed to launch production and sales.

ELEMENT ONE is a zero emission, long-range hydrogen-electric aircraft powered by distributed hydrogen-electric propulsion.
4 photos
ELEMENT ONE is a zero emission, long-range hydrogen-electric aircraft powered by distributed hydrogen-electric propulsion. ELEMENT ONE is a zero emission, long-range hydrogen-electric aircraft powered by distributed hydrogen-electric propulsion. ELEMENT ONE is a zero emission, long-range hydrogen-electric aircraft powered by distributed hydrogen-electric propulsion.

Press blast:

Singapore’s HES Unveils Plans for Regional Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft.

Singapore, Paris – October 2nd, 2018  After 12 years developing hydrogen propulsion systems for small unmanned aircraft, HES Energy Systems is today unveiling its plans for Element One, the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft.

One century after the start of commercial aviation, HES is joining forces with a variety of partners to pioneer a new form of aerial mobility: quiet and zero carbon, personalized, on-demand, decentralized and economically inclusive of rural communities.

Designed as a zero-emissions aircraft, 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.

Originally from Singapore, HES has been working with a number of fast-moving start-ups and SMEs in France over the past year and exploring various locations to execute its Element One vision, including Aerospace Valley, the global aviation R&D hub located in Toulouse. Its parent company H3 Dynamics has been a symbol of intensifying technological cooperation between the two countries as part of the 2018 Year of Innovation.

The promise of hydrogen-electric power could shape the future of aviation. “It’s now possible to break past the endurance limits of battery-electric flight using HES’ ultra-light hydrogen energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement” says Taras Wankewycz, founder of HES. “Element One’s design paves the way for renewable hydrogen as a long-range fuel for electric aviation.”

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.

About HES Energy Systems (Singapore)

HES Energy Systems specializes in building high performance hydrogen fuel cell systems to extend the flying range of autonomous aerial vehicles.  With a presence in Singapore since 2009, HES has grown to become a global leader in developing ultra-light fuel cells and hydrogen energy storage systems. Hired by tier-one UAV manufacturers and leading aerospace institutes around the world for over 12 years, HES has developed a variety of hydrogen storage approaches to continuously push the limits of on-board, off-grid or portable energy. HES’ parent company H3 Dynamics Holdings is backed by Japan’s SPARX representing Toyota Mirai Creation Fund, ACA Partners, and Capital Management Group.

Source: HES via Green Car Congress

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34 Comments on "Meet The World’s First Hydrogen-Electric Passenger Aircraft: Element One"

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earl colby pottinger

This has already been done using solar cells, I am sure the need for it running hydrogen. On the other hand it is their money to spend how they want.

Link

The largest drones that run on solar energy (also called pseudo-satellites, like the Airbus Zephyr) can carry payloads of up to 5 kg.

Pushmi-Pullyu

The solar powered experimental airplane (motor glider?) Solar Impulse 2 carried a human pilot in its multi-leg round-the-world flight, but was limited to flying only in good weather.

comment image

earl colby pottinger

Good point, but what type of weather will this hydrogen plane handle? No, I am not an idiot expecting it to handle weather standard planes will not fly in, but can it handle strong winds and/or rain. I had to ask since it seems to need a lot of engines.

wavelet

“This performance is several orders of magnitude better than any battery-electric aircraft attempt so far”
A stupid and arrogant sentence for an aircraft that a prototype of doesn’t exist yet. It should be “the goals of the program is to be several…”
The blurb at the end describing the company is also false, since they don’t have a single aircraft in the sky as yet.

And the InsideEVs title is misleading as well: This isn’t a real aircraft yet, so “meet…” is wrong.

Madan R

Its a fantastic concept, but moving from concept to production is not a easy thing as we have seen with Tesla.
Even if they start producing this plane on a commercial scale, there will be lot of critics trolling and shorting the stock of that company.

Dan F.

Actually it is VERY unlikely to come to fruition. Imaginary airplanes are even more imaginary than imaginary cars.

G2

It’s H2 and thus silly to entertain.

Omicron

Hydrogen fuel cells are more useful than straight batteries in many applications. Passenger electric cars are not among them, but don’t knock aircraft. There is no battery technology in existance today, not even at the prototype stage, that can power an aircraft capable of carring multiple people for more than an hour or so at a time. Liquid hydrogen has a huge power density advantage that won’t disappear anytime soon.

Dimitrij

I don’t know if you noticed that some EV forumers comment on FC-related subjects from purely ideological prospective, along the lines of “battery good, FC bad”, so do not necessarily expect an applied science-based debate 🙂

I agree with you that in commercial aviation the hydrogen FC tech has a better chance to attain feasibililty, because at least one challenge – the refueling infrastructure – is alleviated. Planes only fly to- and from a limited number of points, whereas non-commuter automobiles crawl all over the place (the US for example has 100,000+++ gas stations, but only a few hundred commercial airports).

But this plane is of course a technology demonstrator only and looks like a derivative from that Swiss solar plane, which had to be made ultralight due to limited power, and therefore not very practical for most commercial purposes.

Why don’t they just take an existing turboprop (or a propfan, if they can lay their hands on it), replace one of the engines with an electric motor and see how that goes first.

Pushmi-Pullyu

“Liquid hydrogen has a huge power density advantage that won’t disappear anytime soon.”

A lot of that “advantage” is going to disappear when you add in the weight and space necessary for the heavy, high-pressure tanks and the cryogenic equipment needed to keep the fuel that cold.

Prsnep

You can double the volume of a tank without doubling the mass. There’s plenty of space in an airplane, just weight is of concern.

earl colby pottinger

Assuming you are using the Cubic-Root law, you can double the dimensions of a low temperature tank and it will weigh four times as much but it will hold eight times as much fuel.

This assumes a low pressure tank, at high pressure the hoop tension also doubles so you need tank walls twice as thick and thus it cancels out the gains.

earl colby pottinger

In defense of hydrogen, if you chill it enough you do not need high pressure tanks. However, you need a lot of energy to get that cold. On the other-hand once chilled to liquid temperature you just need good insulation (which does not have to be heavy) to store it.

Planes, ships and trains have the space for that, cars do not.

TheCyberKnight

Yet, more than 90% of the hydrogen produced today comes from hydrocarbons and yields greenhouse gazes in a 9+ to 1 ratio. Nice.

Dimitrij

Then do not entertain it; Problem solved.

Prsnep

The hydrogen hate on this site, even for non-car applications, is really strong. Why people have cult-like aversion to a technology, I’ll never understand.

earl colby pottinger

Because too many of the hydrogen fans do not admit at the moment how polluting/energy consuming hydrogen production is. And almost none are behind the pushing of the non-polluting means of making hydrogen. Thus if we just followed their lead it would just lead to more pollution not less.

Please, go ahead and ask the hydrogen fans where the gas is going to come from. Few of them even know of the methods to use solar energy to produce hydrogen more efficiently then electrolysis. They instead want to use +THREE+times the power that batteries use to do the same jobs for a start.

Worse, too many times they do not talk about the costs of that power, they talk as if the windmills, solar panels and hydro plants go up for free. They do not, and building three times what we will need if we go battery base instead is plain silly.

Prsnep
“Because too many of the hydrogen fans do not admit at the moment how polluting/energy consuming hydrogen production is.” Then we should be equally concerned about electricity sourced from fossil fuels, especially coal. (Burning coal is 2x or perhaps 3x as bad as natural gas, btw.) But people are unwilling to do that. The general view is “well, it’s someone else’s problem to sort out”. Electric cars are exciting not because they are completely fossil-fuel free, but because of their POTENTIAL to be. If the electricity is sourced entirely from coal, you’d be able to lower emissions by driving a hybrid vehicle instead. But the potential to be fossil-fuel free is there. And the same goes for hydrogen. Yes, it’s sourced from natural gas for the most part now, but in the future it doesn’t need to be. Yes, electrolysis at high volumes is inefficient at the moment, but it has the potential to improve and people are already working on it. Yes, fuel cell cars are expensive at the moment, but companies are working on reducing fuel cell stack costs, and that’s bearing fruit as well. Yes, tanks are heavy for how much hydrogen they store, but improvements are… Read more »
James P Heartney

Why fourteen motors? As I understand current aircraft design, they usually like fewer engines (which is why tri-jets were mostly replaced by twin-engine jets). it’s just more mechanical complexity for no benefit. If it’s only for four passengers why not go with the conventional single-prop design?

Cypress

For electric motors, several smaller ones are better than 1 or 2 larger motors.

Dan F.

NASA is in the process of building an X-plane (derived from an existing real aircraft) to test this propulsion idea.

Pushmi-Pullyu

At least part of the reason is a physical limitation on propellers. The longer the propeller blade, the faster the tip moves. When that speed nears (or exceeds) the speed of sound, propulsion is lost. Shorter propeller blades, to maximize propulsion, leads to multiple smaller motors.

Also, the longer the propeller blades, the higher the aircraft has to be off the ground for takeoffs and landings.

/engineering

MikeM

I would also add (in my complete ignorance of aircraft dynamics) that multiple motors provide a better distribution of airflow over the wings, helping with lift in the run up to take off. I imagine there is some advantage in flight too.
Oops! I just noticed Moshe’s similar comment – shows up just below this writing. Ahem! Djoni too.

An aero engineer should have a go at this one!

Moshe

You can have some advantages on the runway performance point of view, by blowing the wing, therefore creating lift at a very low speed.

Djoni

Larger combustion engine have higher efficiency and because they are complex and expensive machinery, less is best, but this doesn’t apply with electric motor because you can build a small motor as efficient as a big one, and you have the benefit of distributing air wash all over the wing and easily do some control vectoring.

Cypress

Good luck with that.

Benz

Concept to actual production is an enormous step.

Good luck

Chris Hansen

Ultralight with that huge wingspan? I don’t know, Rick…

Pushmi-Pullyu

There have been several attempts by startups to use large airships for heavy-lift cargo transport — perhaps most prominently Cargolifter AG — with a lot of argument as to whether hydrogen or helium would be preferred (helium is obviously a lot safer, but is in very limited supply), but none of them have gotten off the ground… so to speak. 😉

I expect that, like all those previous attempts, this concept airship will never be seen flying the skies in the real world. At least with the heavy lift cargo market, there is a potential there not served by any existing vehicles. A passenger airship… well, there were reasons they couldn’t compete with airplanes, and that wasn’t merely the Hindenburg disaster.

Pushmi-Pullyu

Ignore previous telegram. 😉

Okay, I didn’t read the article fully before responding. I see now that this doesn’t use hydrogen for lift, so it’s an airplane and not an airship.

My bad!

viriato

I think the aerial transport that is crucial in our society, will be dependant of fuel for a long, long time. They need lot of power, but are very sensible to weight. Must be as safer as possible, reliable and profitable. I can’t see a susteinable alternative to petrol engines in planes for years. Maybe some kind of new biofuel.

Vexar

The Germans were famous for making aircraft that flew because of hydrogen. Massive tanks of hydrogen were used to lift the aircraft and they also had these nacelles with lots of propellers on them. This idea was implemented in 1900 and commercialized by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts in 1914. Airship Ventures is building them out with the inert gas of helium now. Although not as grand as older designs, it is much, much safer.

viriato

While I was reading your post, I thought in the Zeppelin Hindenburg.