The world’s first practical zero-emission aviation powertrain developer, ZeroAvia has raised around $24.3 million from investors including funds backed by the American business magnate Bill Gates and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing.
The start-up will use the fund to ramp up its hydrogen-powered propulsion system to work with larger planes that could carry at least 50 passengers. ZeroAvia’s latest and biggest model currently has a capacity of around 19 seats.
Hydrogen is considered as a key fuel to cut aviation emissions. Though batteries work well for cars and trucks, they are too heavy for the energy-intensive and weight-sensitive airline industry. Hydrogen only emits water when it is burned and if the gas is produced from renewable energy its use will create a limited polluting impact on the atmosphere.
The current funding for ZeroAvia follows a round at the end of last year which raised nearly $38 million, including support from the UK government, to advance the company’s technology in a smaller aircraft.
“We a have a road map that goes into larger and larger airframes. We thought we’d go for the next size in a year or two, but there’s been so much interest, we decided to accelerate,” ZeroAvia chief executive Val Miftakhov stated.
This latest round of funding came from Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, International Consolidated Airlines Group’s British Airways, the Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Royal Dutch Shell, Summa Equity, and British-based consultant SYSTEMIQ.
Mr. Miftakhov estimates ZeroAvia to draw at least $100 million by the end of this year, especially to fund for designing and developing the larger hydrogen-powered plane and move it closer to commercialization.
According to Mr. Miftakhov, the total expense of the program to develop the larger aircraft will be about $250 million and some of the additional funds will likely come from government grants.
Currently, the company is working to makes its planes operate entirely on hydrogen rather than using its current hybrid of battery-power and hydrogen. It also plans to switch from condensed gas hydrogen to liquid hydrogen, as it is more convenient to store.