After 12 years developing hydrogen (H2) propulsion systems for small unmanned aircrafts, HES Energy Systems unveiled its plans for Element One, the world’s first regional H2-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, personalised, on-demand, decentralised and economically inclusive of rural communities.
Designed as a zero-emissions aircraft, Element One merges HES’ ultra-light H2 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 four passengers for 500 km to 5000 km depending on whether H2 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 H2-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 H2 energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement,” said Taras Wankewycz, Founder of HES. “Element One’s design paves the way for renewable H2 as a long-range fuel for electric aviation.”
Refuelling 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 H2 generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of H2-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One. HES is now in discussion with industrial-scale H2 producers to explore energy-efficient refuelling 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 decentralised and regional air travel.
“We analysed 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,” said 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 H2 eco-systems.