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  • Writer's pictureMike Hirschberg

Hydrogen Gains Ground

by Mike Hirschberg, Director of Strategy at Vertical Flight Society



Oct. 8 is the “National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day” in the US because writing the date 10.08 shares the same sequence of numbers as the atomic weight of hydrogen: 1.008. Since Oct.8 was a Sunday, the US Department of Energy (DOE) declared an entire Hydrogen Week, primarily to celebrate hydrogen and its future potential, as outlined in this summer’s “US National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap.”


Two important hydrogen events also took place that week.


FLYING HY


In conjunction with the 18th UAS Summit & Expo, the HYSKY Society held its first conference, FLYING HY. Headed by former VFS hydrogen advisor Danielle McLean — who initiated the hydrogen electric vertical takeoff and landing (H2eVTOL) aircraft efforts at VFS — the educational non-profit HYSKY is a spinoff of the VFS H2eVTOL Council.


The UAS Summit & Expo was held in Grand Forks, North Dakota, dubbed the Silicon Valley of Drones because of the uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) research and operations in the area. Grand Forks Air Force Base has been a UAS-only operations base since 2013, with the Global Hawk, Predator and other drones conducting operations across the country and beyond. Since then, the state of North Dakota has invested more than $100M in ground and airspace infrastructure to advance UAS technology, including a UAS business park. Local incubator hubs help promote new and novel drone developments. Since hydrogen fuel cells have demonstrated a major step change for UAS range and endurance, the drone community is interested in exploring its potential.


After holding a short course on hydrogen for aviation, Day 1 of FLYING HY featured kickoff keynote speakers from leaders in hydrogen aviation, including John Piasecki of Piasecki Aircraft Corp., Fiona McKay of ZeroAvia, and the author, representing VFS, a top supporter of the event.


Dr. Julia Bodnarik of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma described their one-of-a-kind aviation test facility in southeastern Oklahoma with more than 44,600 acres (18,000 hA) of remote land to support innovative research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) of emerging Innovators like Cambridge, UK-based Stratospheric Platforms wants to use hydrogen for an airborne communications link, while Chennai, India-based Aerostrovilos is demonstrating a microturbine that can operate on hydrocarbons, hydrogen or other fuels, and generate 100 kW for ground or air applications. Michigan-based Interstate Traveler Co. envisions a “Hydrogen Super Highway” providing high-speed magnetic levitation ground transportation built along the right of way of US interstate highways, as well as solar panels and conduits for hydrogen.


Dr. Josef Kallo, CEO of H2FLY showcased the incredible work the now Joby-owned company has accomplished (see “Joby Delivers,” pg. 38). A key takeaway from his presentation was that when the entire production process is considered for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) compared to clean hydrogen, the energy impact and consequential price is actually much less for hydrogen.


Joe Rainville, Hydrogen Propulsion Analyst at Bell, gave an excellent tutorial on understanding the constraints of hydrogen fuel cell use for vertical flight. Shane Morris of Booz Allen Hamilton presented on how artificial intelligence (AI) can help in shaping the future of hydrogen aviation.


John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki Aircraft Corp., presents the challenges and progress in developing the PA-890 hydrogen-electric compound helicopter.

Day 2 featured keynotes from former NASA hydrogen scientist Matt Moran of Moran Innovations; Santh Sathya, CEO of LuftCar; and Bill Spellane, COO of Alaka’i Technologies. LuftCar is a H2eVTOL system that can carry ground transportation vans. Alaka’i has been quietly advancing its Skai hydrogen fuel-cell multicopter (see “Flying in the Skai with Hydrogen,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2019); two aircraft have been built and the company plans to be more open about its progress in the future. Moran and Mark Haberbusch, CEO of NEOEx, later provided hydrogen “Lessons from Space” applicable to aviation. Haberbusch also shared his innovative mobile liquification system that he designed because he needed it for his drone operations. The system was even displayed in the Pentagon courtyard.


VFS Infrastructure Advisor Rex Alexander, CEO of Five-Alpha, provided insights into infrastructure for airports, heliports and vertiports, particularly regarding hydrogen and fire codes. While Ferguson Dale, Founder of Semper Sky, LLC, talked about the educational benefits of drones and their contributions to local communities.


Rob Oldryd of Moreton & Company explained risk management and insurance for the burgeoning hydrogen aviation industry, while Jérôme Gosset, President and CEO of Pyonnier, talked about hydrogen offtake, with the interplay of supply and demand.


Norbert Palenstijn of Leybold, Inc. explained the company’s capabilities in vacuum for cryogenic vessels. Dave Franks of SAE International presented the association’s development of standards for hydrogen in aviation.


A livestream presentation from South Africa gave Mark van Wyk, founder of FlyH2 Aerospace, the opportunity to showcase the operations of their hydrogen fuel cell-powered Dragonfly UAS.


US Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Dunn wrapped up the conference with a talk on the promise and progress on hydrogen testing in the military. A slide showed the very low infrared signature of a truck and highlighted a test where a tank of hydrogen was repeatedly fired upon but (in contrast to fossil fuel) only leaked and did not explode. Hydrogen in many ways is much safer than gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels.


The event was an excellent interchange on hydrogen, fuel cells, vertical flight and electric aviation for those who were only familiar with one or two of those segments. The networking sessions were equally important for helping to establish and strengthen connections with others working in the field or in adjacent segments.


DOE Announces Hydrogen Hubs


On Friday, Oct. 13, the White House and DOE announced $7B to launch seven Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) across the nation and accelerate the commercial-scale deployment of low-cost, clean hydrogen. The funds, part of the $65B of DOE clean energy investments included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The seven hubs selected for negotiations and their maximum funding amount:


  • Appalachian Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2): $925M

  • California Hydrogen Hub (ARCHES): $1.2B

  • Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub (HyVelocity H2Hub): $1.2B

  • Heartland Hydrogen Hub: $925M

  • Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub (MACH): $750M

  • Midwest Hydrogen Hub (MachH2): $1B

  • Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub (PNW H2): $1B


The funding for the hydrogen hubs is covered under the White House’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution. Hubs have submitted detailed Community Benefits Plans, including how the project performers will transparently communicate, eliminate, mitigate and minimize risks. The seven H2Hubs are expected to reduce 27.6 million tons (25 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions from end-uses each year.


In addition to the $7B in DOE funding, the selected H2Hubs will be matched with more than $40B in cost sharing. “Together with tax incentives in the President’s historic Inflation Reduction Act [IRA] and ongoing research and development efforts across the Federal government, today’s announcement will help drive private sector investment in clean hydrogen, setting the nation on a course to hit critical long-term decarbonization objectives,” the announcement stated.


DOE has another $1B to be used for demand-side support for the hubs to drive innovative end-uses of clean hydrogen, with proposals submitted in October. This demand-side initiative seeks to ensure that both producers and end users in the H2Hubs have the market certainty they need during the early years of clean hydrogen production to unlock critical private investment.


In addition to its monthly webinar discussions and podcasts with featured speakers, HYSKY Society is hosting a virtual event, “H2Hub Summit: Meet the Winners,” on March 20, 2024. Presentations will be given by representatives from all seven H2Hubs with live Q&A. Learn more about HYSKY and its resources at www.hysky.org.


More information on VFS hydrogen efforts can be found at www.vtol.org/hydrogen.


(Cover photo: Danielle McLean (left) thanks Santh Sathya, CEO of LuftCar, for being a major sponsor of FLYING HY.)

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