A collaboration of aircraft makers, fuel cell developers and university engineers in Germany’s Baden-Württemberg region have embarked on the first foray into zero-emission passenger flights. The HY4 aircraft, , the world’s first four-seat passenger aircraft powered solely by a hydrogen fuel cell system, took off on its first official flight from Stuttgart Airport on 29 September 2016.

The plane is the brainchild of researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics, together with local partners: fuel cell producer Hydrogenics, light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, zero-emission flight innovator and DLR spin-off H2FLY, Stuttgart Airport, and hybridization experts at the University of Ulm.

Baden-Württemberg is one of Europe’s leading high tech regions, host to a core of Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics researchers investigating next generation energy conversion technologies. The University of Ulm itself hosts specialist research and development centres focusing on hydrogen and solar energy sources. The region also holds an important position in the aerospace industry in Germany, thanks to its research and development capability and the location of more than 60 businesses which have the main thrust of their activities in the aerospace sector.

The HY4, an important development in sustainable air transport, has a cruising speed of 145 kmph, and, depending on speed, altitude and load, it can achieve a range of between 750 and 1,500 kilometres. Its hydrogen fuel cell converts hydrogen directly into electrical energy to propel the aircraft, with water the only waste product in the process. A high-performance lithium battery covers peak power loads during take-off and when climbing. If the hydrogen required for the fuel cell is generated via electrolysis using power from renewable energy sources, the HY4 can fly without generating any emissions at all.

Josef Kallo, responsible for the HY4 project at DLR and a Professor at the University of Ulm, said: “With the HY4, we now have an optimal platform to continue developing the use of fuel cells on aircraft. Small passenger aircraft, such as the HY4, could soon be used in regional transport as electric air taxis and offer a flexible and rapid alternative to existing means of transport.”

Georg Fundel, Managing Director of Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH, was proud the first flight took place at Stuttgart Airport: “Further growth is expected for Stuttgart Airport and aviation in general. For us, this is an important reason to focus on environment-friendly and, someday, even zero-emission aviation, as well as innovative technologies.”

The new technology was also applauded by Violeta Bulc, EU Transport Commissioner on Zero Emission Flying: “I am proud that European researchers and manufacturers are launching this hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft. Such forward-looking activities embody the future of zero-emission flying. The Commission firmly supports such initiatives, which are fully in line with our new strategy for low-emission mobility. Aviation plays an important role in bringing people together, connecting large cities as well as remote locations. It also ensures businesses can grow and develop. The EU will continue to support such initiatives, to drive innovation forward.”

Featured image: The HY4 hydrogen fuel cell four passenger aircraft on the runway at Stuttgart Airport(Credit: DLR)

(via HY4 and NewAtlas)