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Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Sept. 26, 2023

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Alaska Air donates old turboprop plane to project aiming for hydrogen-powered flight


Alaska said Tuesday it will donate one of its retired Q400 turboprops as a development project to ZeroAvia, a U.K-based startup that aims to integrate hydrogen fuel cells with electric motors to power aircraft.

The planned zero-carbon-emitting, hydrogen-fueled electric propulsion system is in the early developmental stage. ZeroAvia’s goal is to deploy it initially on small private planes, eventually working up to 76-seat regional aircraft like the Q400 that flies for Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary.

ZeroAvia made its first and only experimental flight so far last September, flying a six-seat Piper in England for eight minutes.

Led by Russian-born Val Miftakhov, formerly of consulting firm McKinsey and Google, the company, which also has a facility in Hollister, Calif., has received U.K. government funding as well as private investment from others including the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Alaska said it will collaborate with ZeroAvia to scale up its technology to produce a system capable of powering the Q400 with a range of 500 miles.

ZeroAvia said it will set up a location in the Seattle area to support the Q400 project.

Last week, Alaska launched a new venture capital unit, Alaska Star Ventures, with an initial $15 million fund to invest in emerging technologies that can reduce carbon emissions.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, electric motor company MagniX is developing a range of electric motors for airplanes that can be retrofitted to small prop planes, including the Cessna Caravan and the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver seaplane, and to the all-new, nine-passenger Alice electric plane under development in Arlington, Snohomish County.

Elsewhere, Los Angeles-based startup Universal Hydrogen is developing technology to retrofit a 50-seat turboprop aircraft that will run on hydrogen.