United Airlines has taken an equity stake in hydrogen-electric engine developer ZeroAvia. The deal would see the carrier purchase up to 100 of ZeroAvia’s zero-emission engines, which could be retrofitted to United Express’ CRJ-550 aircraft as early as 2028.
British/American firm ZeroAvia is developing hydrogen-electric solutions for aircraft engines using electricity created in a fuel cell to power an electric motor. Since no fossil fuels are burned, there are no emissions.
The new agreement will see United “pursue a conditional purchase agreement for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines, with an option for 50 more, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft which would be operated by United Express partners once they are fully developed and certified by regulators”.
ZeroAvia recently announced plans for zero emission commercial passenger flights between Rotterdam The Hague airport and London in 2024.
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “This investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology.”
In December 2020, United announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. The carrier said it would achieve the goal through direct measures with investments in carbon capture, sustainable fuels and developing technologies.
This summer United Airlines Ventures signed an agreement with Heart Aerospace to acquire 100 of its ES-19 aircraft, and in February the group signed an agreement with sustainable air mobility firm Archer Aviation to accelerate the production of short-haul electric aircraft.
United said that a recent agreement to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Alder Fuels meant that it had now committed to purchase more than twice as much of the fuel as the rest of the world’s airlines combined.
And earlier this month the carrier operated a flight between Chicago and Washington DC where one engine ran on 100 percent SAF (while the other engine flew on conventional fuel).
“United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions that the entire industry can adopt,” Kirby said.