Gerrard Cowan
By Gerrard Cowan

Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who specializes in finance and defense. Follow him on Twitter @gerrardcowan

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HyPoint advances eVTOL hydrogen fuel cell system with working prototype

HyPoint has built the first operable prototype of its hydrogen fuel cell system, with the company now working on building a larger-scale model ahead of full-scale production in 2022.

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, developer of the PA-890 eVTOL, is one of HyPoint’s airframe partners. Piasecki Image

The eVTOL market is a key target for HyPoint’s turbo air-cooled fuel cell system, which was successfully validated in a series of tests to prove its viability. One of the hydrogen specialist’s major partners is Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, developer of the PA-890 eVTOL aircraft and a range of other urban air mobility-related technologies. HyPoint has also secured a deal with Urban Aeronautics to incorporate hydrogen power into the company’s CityHawk eVTOL.

Hydrogen proponents argue that it could significantly expand the possibilities of air taxis and other aircraft, as it has a higher energy density than lithium batteries, increasing operational range and flight time. It also takes less time to refuel than to fully charge a battery, increasing the utilization rate.   

According to HyPoint, the new fuel cell is able to achieve more than triple the power-to-weight ratio of traditional hydrogen fuel cells — up to 1,500 watt-hours per kilogram of energy density — while producing up to 2,000 watts per kilogram of “specific power.” The combination of high power and density will enable longer-distance journeys, the company states. This is essential for aviation, according to HyPoint, and is achieved by an air-cooled fuel cell system.

The use of an air-cooled system helps reduce weight, said Dr. Alex Ivanenko, HyPoint founder and CEO. The alternative to air-cooled fuel cells — liquid-cooled systems — are heavier due to the presence of the coolant.

HyPoint hydrogen fuel cell prototype
HyPoint’s hydrogen fuel cell prototype within its testing housing. HyPoint Photo

The company also reduced weight in other ways, notably the use of lightweight bipolar plates. This also helps increase power, because there is now more room to “fit” power into a form factor of the same size and weight.

HyPoint’s other major aerospace partner is ZeroAvia, a hydrogen-electric aviation company focused on fixed-wing passenger jets. Ivanenko expects to see this market develop much more quickly in terms of hydrogen use than eVTOLs, simply because “they don’t need to design aircraft from scratch.”

“That’s why it will take more time,” Ivanenko said. “With fixed-wing you don’t need to certify [the aircraft], just the powertrain.” eVTOL developers will have to certify both.

HyPoint is currently working to deliver an operational aviation fuel cell by next year. By the end of this year, it plans to build a full-scale model, though this timeframe depends on a number of factors. These systems are designed with both eVTOLs and passenger aircraft in mind, Ivanenko said, but he noted that they would have to be subsequently adapted depending on the aircraft in question. There is no one-size fits all approach.

“It will be a bit different because the power consumption and power profile of a fixed-wing plane and eVTOL are completely different,” he said. “But the core technology and the core model will be the same.”

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3 Comments

  1. Working in the hydrogen industry I noticed certain details which are off in your article. “up to 1,500 watt-hours per kilogram of energy density” – a kg of H2 contains about 33.3 kWh of energy, and a fuel cell can use about 15kWh of energy at 50% electrical efficiency so are you sure you mean 1,500 watt-hours or 15,000 watt-hours? 1,500Wh is off by a factor of 10.

    “While producing up to 2,000 watts per kilogram of “specific power.”” – This is not entirely wrong but this is a continuous power rating – this means the fuel cell will continuously produce 2 kW of power as long as it is being fed with Hydrogen and Oxygen. This is an extremely low number for a helicopter though – a fuel cell electric car usually has a 100kW fuel cell and uses about 30kW to cruise along. 2kW is very little.

  2. The power ratio is related to the fuel cell stack weight. 2 kW/kg. For example, a 20kg fuel cell stack can generate 40 kW. The power output depends on the system weight. It is scalable.

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