Universal Hydrogen this week raised $20.5 million through a Series A funding round to support its plans to convert regional airliners to hydrogen propulsion. The California-based start-up announced the close of the round on April 22 to mark Earth Day, taking total funding to $23.5 million.
The Series A round was led by venture capital group Playground Global alongside an investor syndicate that also involved new and existing backers of new aviation technology companies, including JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Plug Power, Sojitz Corporation, Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, and Future Shape. The additional capital will support Universal Hydrogen’s work on a 2 MW fuel cell powertrain that it plans to retrofit in aircraft such as the ATR 42, along with preloaded hydrogen fuel capsules.
The company, which is working in partnership with energy supply group Plug Power, said that it has already “secured interest” from unspecified airlines for the conversion program. It is conducting its research and development work at Jack Northrop Field in Hawthorne, California. It aims to have its technology ready to enter commercial service by 2025 and intends to now double the size of its team to around 40 people.
“What attracted us to Universal Hydrogen was the team’s bold vision, depth of experience, and scalable ecosystem approach,” commented Playground Global founder and general partner Peter Barrett. “Rather than building a point solution for just one corner of the market, the team looked at the whole hydrogen value chain, identified the key gaps, and developed pragmatic solutions to close them.”
Paul Eremenko, who was formerly chief technology officer of Airbus, founded Universal Hydrogen. “We see the near-term decarbonization of regional aviation as a first step and catalyst, setting the whole industry on a path to meeting Paris Agreement emissions target,” he said. “Hydrogen is today the only viable fuel for getting to true zero emissions in commercial aviation, and our goal is to de-risk the decision for Airbus, Boeing, and Comac to make their new airplanes in the 2030s hydrogen-powered.”