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Alaska Air Works Toward Hydrogen/Electric de Havilland Q400 Fleet

The airline group has plans to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Alaska Air Group is working with British-U.S. firm ZeroAvia to develop a zero-emissions propulsion system powerful enough to be mounted on the de Havilland Q400, a 76-passenger twin turboprop airliner. The Q400 is one of the most successful regional turboprop designs, with more than 1,200 aircraft in the Dash-8 series produced since 1983. ZeroAvia has successfully tested a 600 kW (around 800 hp) hydrogen engine mounted on a large truck, which was able to taxi under ZeroAvia power (though it never achieved takeoff speed).

The targets for the hydrogen-electric Q400s are ambitious: carry a full flight (76 passengers and bags) on a 500 nm trip.

The airline group, which includes Horizon Air, reserved 50 options for ZeroAvia’s Z2000, which is under development. As part of the deal, the airline group will work with ZeroAvia in development of the powerplant, which it plans to develop in a series, with models producing from 2,000 to 5,000 kW (around 2600 to around 6700 hp).

As part of the development plan, ZeroAvia plans to establish facilities in the Seattle area.

The story is a complicated one, though. ZeroAvia, which got $24.3 million in funding from investors, including British Airways, has had development glitches. Last April, a Piper Malibu Mirage experimental test bed had to make a force landing in a field in England during testing. The aircraft was heavily damaged. The aircraft is not a true hydrogen-powered plane but, rather, a hybrid electric-hydrogen one, with batteries supplying the majority of its power. On the Malibu Mirage that crashed, the majority of the seating section is taken up by batteries.

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ZeroAvia had planned to fly the converted Malibu Mirage on a 250 nm trip in late 2021 from the Orkney Islands to the Scottish mainland, but after the test aircraft was heavily damaged in its unplanned off-airport landing, that plan has been put on hold.

And as we reported this summer, a peer-reviewed study by The Park Foundation and Cornell University found that hydrogen, one of the most-hyped fuel sources for a greener future, wasn’t green at all. The authors of the study wrote that the creation of blue hydrogen, which is made from natural gas, is responsible for as much as 60% greater emissions than the burning of coal or natural gas itself due to the carbon-heavy footprint of the manufacturing process.

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