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Aircraft giant-backed ZeroAvia is flying hydrogen-electric planes closer to commercialization

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

zeroavia plane in the sky
Image Credit: ZeroAvia

  • California startup ZeroAvia closed a successful round co-led by aircraft giant Airbus and is working toward certification for its hydrogen-electric plane, with goals to make zero-emission flight a reality by 2024.

  • While the amount of the round was undisclosed, its previous Series B round raked in $72 million.

  • In addition to working on a smaller 20-seat hybrid jet, it also has a large commercial prototype in the works and is retrofitting a 76-seat testbed demonstrator provided by Alaska Airlines.

  • ZeroAvia is one of many startups making strides in the hydrogen-electric plane space, with others like Joby Aviation delivering the U.S. Air Force its first electric air taxi this week, and AeroDelft partnering with the European giant KLM.

  • The airline industry, which is responsible for about 2.5% of emissions has committed to going net-zero by 2050 with many companies making science-based commitments and investing in startups like ZeroAvia, underscoring a trend in the transition.

Hollister, California-based startup ZeroAvia kicked off this year with the launch of the world’s first hydrogen-electric plane, a “powertrain” it says is the future of zero-emission flight.

With plans for a 2025 liftoff — the year it plans to power zero-emission commercial aircraft – lately, the company has ramped up its efforts, securing a Series C funding round co-led by aircraft giant Airbus, British bank Barclays, and the investment fund of the Saudi Arabian megacity project Neom.

On top of the round, ZeroAvia is working towards certification of its first engine, which, in conjunction with the investment, Airbus is collaborating with the startup on, specifically its hydrogen power systems.

Aside from the power systems, the startup says it and Airbus will be working together on several technical areas, underscoring how much the aviation giant is keen to go green. Thus, it makes sense that the money from this round will be used to propel ZeroAvia’s first product, ZA600, through to certification, sticking the landing on the prototype stage for the 20-seat aircraft.

The funding is also being used to fuel the startup’s commercial version, ZA2000, as well as retrofit a 76-seat testbed demonstrator provided by Alaska Airlines, a fellow investor in the round. By 2024, the startup plans to do the first flight test of the demonstrator and by 2025, commercialize the ZA600.

The round also saw investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, AP Ventures, and Amazon Climate Pledge Fund.

While the startup did not disclose the amount it raised, its Series B and Series A rounds saw $72 million and $56 million respectively.

ZeroAvia logo
Image Credit: ZeroAvia

Airbus isn’t new to the sustainable aviation space, as the company has been working on hybrid planes and sustainable aviation fuels. On top of working directly to make planes better for the planet, it also has projects in direct air capture and is developing hardware units to be configured for CO2 usage in agriculture applications like vertical farming, electro fuels (a possible ingredient in sustainable aviation fuels), and storage.

“Anybody following the development of hydrogen aviation – and its potential to transform the industry – will see this investment as a positive step. Airbus has led the way with its zero-emission vision and its commitment to extensive R&D programs,” Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia said in a statement.

“For ZeroAvia to now have investors such as Airbus coming on board is the strongest possible validation of the prospects for hydrogen-electric propulsion technology," he added.

ZeroAvia isn’t the only hydroelectric plane in the sky. In fact, the area is ripe with innovation, partnerships with large airlines, and important technological milestones.

Other startups betting on the idea include AeroDelft, a student team from Delft University of Technology that, in April, partnered with the European giant KLM Royal Dutch Airlines; H2FLY which just a few weeks ago completed the world’s first piloted flight of a liquid hydrogen-powered electric aircraft; Joby Aviation, which this week delivered the U.S. Air Force with its first electric air taxi; and Universal Hydrogen, which in March launched the first flight of the world’s largest hydroplane and is currently undergoing more test flights across the Mojave desert.

With all the activity in the space, it seems hybrid planes may be just around the corner, or rather, the runway. And for good reason, as the aviation industry, which pumps about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, is being pushed in that direction, with a previous commitment to achieve net-zero flying by 2050.

While 25 airlines—mostly based in the Americas and Europe—have committed to setting or have set science-based targets, according to a report by McKinsey and Company, these targets are contingent on the tech getting into the air. Commercialization dates set for this decade give hope that it will.


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