Hydrogen fuel cell specialist HyPoint this week launched a partnership with rotorcraft and drone developer Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to develop and certify propulsion systems for eVTOL aircraft. Under the agreement, which was announced on August 24, the U.S companies will first focus on producing five 650-kW fuel cells for Piasecki’s new PA-860 compound helicopter, which it says will be the world’s first hydrogen-powered manned rotorcraft.
According to HyPoint and Piasecki, their technology will offer other eVTOL aircraft developers four times the energy density available from existing lithium-ion batteries and twice the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel systems. Under the terms of the agreement, which is valued at $6.5 million, Piasecki has obtained an exclusive license to distribute the fuel cells. Hypoint retains ownership of the underlying patented technology.
Piasecki expects to have a full-scale prototype of the PA-860 aircraft ready to start flight testing before the end of 2023 and to achieve type certification by the end of 2024. The company, which says it will be able to start delivering aircraft in 2025, reports that it has received commitments for 325 units from prospective customers.
Piasecki says it is already in dialogue with the FAA to establish type certification criteria for the helicopter. The U.S. Air Force is also interested in the technology and has provided development support through its Afwerx unit.
“Initial lab testing funded by Piasecki last winter demonstrated the technical viability of HyPoint’s hydrogen fuel system,” said company president and CEO John Piasecki. “While we were benchmarking HyPoint’s technology against alternatives and continue to rigorously test and validate findings, we are very optimistic.”
The partners say they are willing to customize the fuel cells to specific eVTOL vehicles. Alternatively, eVTOL manufacturers can opt to partner with Hypoint and Piasecki to develop systems based on their specific aircraft architecture.
Unlike other hydrogen fuel cell systems, Hypoint’s equipment uses compressed air for both cooling and oxygen supplies. According to the California-based company, the fuel cells will deliver up to 2,000 watts per kilogram of specific power, which it says is at least three times the power-to-weight ratio of liquid-cooled systems. Energy density is projected at 1,500 watt-hours per kilogram, which far exceeds that of existing lithium-ion batteries being deployed in eVTOL aircraft.
“This new strategic partnership will dramatically accelerate delivery timelines by equipping eVTOL manufacturers with next-generation hydrogen fuel cell systems that meet their specific needs,” said Hypoint founder and CEO Alex Ivanenko.