The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

ZeroAvia Unveils Oxygen Compressor For Hydrogen Fuel Cell Propulsion System

ZeroAvia has developed a compressor to ensure the high flow of oxygen its hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems need to provide electric power for aircraft. The propulsion innovator said the new compressor will have the capacity to support fuel cell systems with a power rating of up to 900 kW, which includes the 600 kW ZA600 powertrain it is developing for aircraft with up to 19 passengers.

Announcing the new technology on August 10, ZeroAvia explained that hydrogen fuel cells require a high flow of oxygen for the chemical reaction in its stacks to provide sufficient quantities of electricity to power the aircraft. At higher altitudes, air compressors need to be powerful and efficient, while not adding excessive weight to the powertrain, which could compromise range and payload.

According to ZeroAvia, ground testing of the compressor has established that it will deliver stable performance across a wide array of power requirements and operating environments. It claims the compressor is the most powerful available to date for aviation applications, and could also be adapted to support the larger ZA2000 propulsion system it intends to provide for 40- to 80-seat aircraft from 2027.

Testing High-Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Stacks

The company intends to use the compressor to test the high-temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cell stacks for the ZA2000. It expects to start certification for the ZA600 unit over the next 12 months as it works towards certification to allow the conversion of existing regional airliners in time to start commercial flights in 2025.

The new compressor is based on a new approach to oxygen flow management devised by ZeroAvia’s engineering team. It runs on the power generated by the core electric propulsion system, eliminating the usual need for a separate electric motor. ZeroAvia maintains this approach will make type certification more straightforward, as well as reduce weight and improve the reliability of inflight performance.

ZeroAvia is developing hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for regional airliners.
A strong flow of oxygen is a critical element in the chemical reaction through which hydrogen fuel cell stacks produce electricity to power aircraft. (Image: ZeroAvia)

“The compressor technology we have designed is critical in delivering optimal performance in the final, certified ZA600 engine technology,” said Rudolf Coetze, ZeroAvia’s chief technology officer for hydrogen. “Our compressor is an important component of our fuel cell power generation systems, and a world-leading technology advancement for clean aviation in its own right. This really is a major achievement for our turbomachinery engineers and another marquee moment for the company at large.”

ZeroAvia recently completed flight testing with its Dornier 228 testbed aircraft. In 2022, it acquired fuel cell specialist Hypoint to strengthen its capability with these systems.