Universal Hydrogen is building a… universal way of transporting and using this fuel in aviation. And they are gathering pace, AND customers!

Universal Hydrogen - The Nespresso Capsule of Hydrogen!

On a Q400. Image: Universal Hydrogen

They may not have made as much noise as some other hydrogen-related companies. But Universal Hydrogen is working on ways to bring this fuel into the industry. And they are focusing primarily on one, very specific aspect of it: the fuel itself. The company already attracted interest and funding from many well-known names in aviation. Venture capital arms of companies like Airbus, Toyota and JetBlue had already joined in.

Newer information puts more airlines on the list of backers for the project. Companies like Icelandair, Air Nostrum in Spain and Ravn Alaska now have agreements with Universal Hydrogen. And while these agreements include aircraft conversion kits, this isn’t what the company is really about.

Photo: Matasjauu, CC BY-SA 4.0

Universal Hydrogen wants to create hydrogen fuel tanks for aircraft. But these aren’t simply tanks, that an airline would fill up with fuel before a flight. The idea is for the fuel tanks themselves to be a system – a removable, replaceable system. Not only that, these tanks will be the primary means of transporting the fuel. So the company wants to create an entire supply chain system, around these versatile tanks. Yes, we’re back to discussing supply chain management.

So Universal Hydrogen is signing fuel supply deals, with the airlines that will buy its kits. The company is working with several partners, to create retrofit hydrogen fuel-cell kits. These first kits will be for the Dash-8-400 (Q400) and ATR-72-600 turboprops. But the company is already working with more partners on a kit for the Dornier 328 turboprop, as well.

Universal Hydrogen - The Nespresso Capsule of Hydrogen!

The tanks. Image: Universal Hydrogen


The Modular Tanks of Universal Hydrogen

These tanks that Universal Hydrogen is working on are somewhat unusual. We usually mention two ways of transporting hydrogen: pressurization (in gaseous form) and cryogenic liquid hydrogen. But this company is describing its tanks as “modular”: they are liquid hydrogen tanks, but work without active cooling. And they incorporate a structure that will allow them to operate under pressure, as well.

But again, this isn’t just about carrying hydrogen on an aircraft. Universal Hydrogen wants these tanks to work everywhere. They will be suitable for transportation in regular containers. So it will be possible to move them by sea or land. The company will retrieve them, process them and prepare them for reuse.

Universal Hydrogen - The Nespresso Capsule of Hydrogen!

The tank/fuel cycle, this time featuring an ATR. Image: Universal Hydrogen

Paul Eremenko is a co-founder and CEO of the California-based company. Before he and his three co-founders started it, he headed several electric projects at Airbus. To underline the company’s emphasis on the fuel, he used an interesting analogy:

We are the Nespresso capsule of hydrogen. We don’t grow the coffee and we don’t make the coffee-maker. It is a similar model for us… somebody has to build the first coffee maker and our version of that is to develop a conversion kit and offer that to regional airlines.

Image: Universal Hydrogen

Whether the company’s plan best resembles the coffee capsule, or a refillable glass bottle, or perhaps an AA battery, they are garnering a lot of support. We have seen other projects working on conversions of specific aircraft. ZeroAvia comes to mind, as do projects Fresson and HEART. This company instead focuses on the supply chain side – and making the fuel tank a key part of the process.