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FFI and Universal Hydrogen join forces to decarbonize aviation

Australia-headed renewable energy and green hydrogen developer Fortescue Future Industries Pty Ltd (FFI), a subsidiary of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, and the US-based startup Universal Hydrogen Co. have joined forces to enable the aviation industry to decarbonize through the use of zero-emissions green hydrogen.

Fortescue Future Industries Pty Ltd (FFI), a subsidiary of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, and Universal Hydrogen Co. have joined forces to enable the aviation industry to decarbonize through the use of zero-emissions green hydrogen.

Founded in 2020, Universal Hydrogen, in which FFI is also an early investor, is building a flexible, scalable, and capital-light solution to hydrogen logistics for aviation through its modular capsule technology.

These capsules can be filled with gaseous and liquid hydrogen and are delivered from the point of production directly to the aircraft using existing freight networks and cargo handling equipment.

Universal Hydrogen is also developing a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain retrofit kit to enable regional turbo propeller (turboprop) aircraft, starting with the ATR72 and the De Havilland Canada Dash-8, to fly on hydrogen.

The first test flight of Universal Hydrogen’s technology is anticipated in 2022, with revenue services planned for 2025.

This agreement will help ensure that we have an adequate supply of green hydrogen globally to fuel not only regional aviation in the 2020s but to support the entry into service of a hydrogen single-aisle airplane in the 2030s. We see green hydrogen as the only credible path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement emissions targets. Through the investment of companies like FFI, we expect green hydrogen to be at cost parity with jet fuel on an equivalent energy basis by the mid-2020s, and to be significantly cheaper in the years that follow, said Paul Eremenko, CEO, Universal Hydrogen.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was signed on November 10, 2021, follows FFI’s recognition by US President Joe Biden at the climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland as one of several companies to join his prestigious “First Movers Coalition.”

Universal Hydrogen has an ambitious plan to help fight climate change, with a goal of making hydrogen-powered commercial flights a reality – and FFI is committed to enabling that target, said Dr Andrew Forrest AO Chairman FFI.

Under the MoU, FFI and Universal Hydrogen have agreed to:

  • Negotiate a global offtake arrangement whereby FFI will supply green hydrogen to Universal Hydrogen to power regional and other aviation sectors until 2035;
  • Conduct a scoping study to develop green hydrogen production and logistics hubs in Iceland, New Zealand, and Southeast Queensland in Australia; and
  • Evaluate future green hydrogen demand in the aviation industry on a region-by-region basis to identify and promote green hydrogen adoption and uptake.

FFI will take the lead on green hydrogen production activities and supply to the identified markets or green H2 Hubs, and Universal Hydrogen will take the lead on delivery logistics to airports and on-airport fuel services.

Our collaboration lays the foundations for the zero-emissions aviation industry in the near-term future. Currently, aviation accounts for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and emissions have doubled since the 1980s. Electrifying our planes will only go so far and will only be appropriate for smaller aircraft, due to current limitations around battery technologies. Green hydrogen, in contrast, is a practical solution we can use right now, said Dr Andrew Forrest.

Both FFI and Universal Hydrogen will work together to identify and develop green hydrogen customer demand in the aviation industry.

Green hydrogen is seen by both companies as an ideal aviation fuel because it is a zero-pollution, renewable resource that generates only water when it is burned.

It is also the most weight-efficient energy carrier available, aside from nuclear fuels – with nearly four times more energy per unit of mass than traditional jet fuel.

The demand for green hydrogen in the aviation industry is expected to grow exponentially as new climate targets are set globally. This deal reinforces that green hydrogen has the potential to be a powerful fuel for a range of difficult-to-decarbonize industries, including aviation, said Julie Shuttleworth, CEO, FFI.

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