The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

France's BeautHyFuel Green Aviation Project Pursues Cryogenic Hydrogen Propulsion Goals

Elixir Aircraft is preparing to fly an all-new turbine-powered version of its two-seat Elixir light aircraft as part of its strategy to transition to more environmentally friendly propulsion. The single-engine model will use the new 140-horsepower TP-90 powerplant, which is part of what fellow French company Turbotech says is a family of eco-friendly engines. Included in this lineup is a planned cryogenic hydrogen propulsion system for light aircraft, which Elixir is also supporting.

This concept is the focus of a research program called BeautHyFuel. Initiated at the Paris Air Show in 2019, the 40-month project was officially launched in April 2020 and is supported by €3.6 million ($3.5 million) in funding from the France Relance Covid-19 economic recovery plan. It falls within the framework of the country’s CORAC civil aviation research council.

In addition to Turbotech and Elixir­—which is providing the testbed for the first flight in 2023—the BeautHyFuel consortium includes Air Liquide, as the designer and supplier of the hydrogen fuel tank. The trio is supported in a consultancy capacity by larger French aerospace groups Safran and Daher, which also have ambitions to introduce new green aviation technology.

Cyril Champenois, Elixir’s co-founder and COO, described BeautHyFuel as “an ambitious yet important project for the aviation industry, which will support its ambitious goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” The aim is “to integrate the fuel tank and the turbine together, then integrate them in the Elixir,” said Champenois. “We also aim to make the turbine work and to have the means of compliance to certify.”

Champenois conceded that while hydrogen technology is making strides, the first hydrogen-fueled powerplants for general aviation aircraft will not be on the market for some time. He cited fuel distribution and storage as the major challenges. “We would like to go faster but the industry will not be able to distribute hydrogen everywhere for at least 20 years,” said Champenois. “Our aim [with BeautHyFuel] is to clear the way [with the hydrogen engine development] so that when the fuel is available, we are ready to go.”

According to the company, a TP-90 engine powered by sustainable fuel such as synthetic kerosene should provide a solution in the interim. According to Champenois, the global quest to de-carbonize aviation is expediting the phasing out of common general aviation aircraft fuels such as avgas and mogas. The latter motor gasoline fuels the Elixir’s 912iS/915iS Rotax engines.

“These fuels don’t have a long-term future so we are preparing an alternative for our customers,” Champenois told FutureFlight.

The Elixir will be an important testbed for the TP-90. Another version of the engine has already been tested on a Bristell B23 and JMB VL3 Evolution light sport aircraft.

The first TP-90 is scheduled for delivery to Elixir in the coming months for integration into a test aircraft. The performance of the new turbine is similar to that of the Rotax engine, if a little thirstier, according to Turbotech.

While the TP-90 is 50 centimeters (20 inches) longer than its piston engine stablemate, no design changes to the aircraft are needed, even though its use on the Elixir changes the aircraft’s mass and balance.