Beyond Aero builds hydrogen-powered jet

The aeronautical industry is well aware of its carbon footprint, but it’s not an industry where things change quickly. Batteries can be an option for short-range eVTOL use cases, but for everything else, they still weigh too much compared to the amount of power they can hold. However, there is another option: hydrogen. This is what Beyond Aero, based in Toulouse, France, is betting on, which is seeking to market a hydrogen-powered business jet.

The company, which is part of our Battlefield startup competition at Disrupt this week, is currently ground testing an 85 kW hydrogen-based propulsion system, with flight tests of its single-engine testbed planned later This year. The company plans to launch a business jet, the Beyond Aero One, with a range of up to 800 nautical miles, a speed of around 310 knots (or just over 356 miles per hour), and seating for up to to eight passengers. The vision is much broader, however, with plans to launch a commuter jet and potentially even larger planes in the future.

Image credits: Beyond aero

The company was founded by long-time friends Eloa Guillotin (CEO), Hugo Tarlé (CTO/COO) and Valentin Chomel (Product and Strategy). While Guillotin and Tarlé are into entrepreneurship, Chomel previously worked in the aerospace industry. While working on flight test instrumentation at Safran, one of the world’s largest aeronautical OEMs, he discovered eVTOL and hydrogen propulsion systems. Chomel started his PhD focusing on the technology roadmap to electrification, but in the evenings he would end up talking to his two friends who were also figuring out what to do next and getting into IoT and sports technology.

“I said, ‘You guys are passionate about airplanes, let’s build an airplane as a company.’ “There is a huge market opportunity because everything will have to change,” Chomel told me.

Things started to snowball from there, with Chomel then leaving his PhD and the three of them starting the company from scratch.

Chomel says that in many ways, it’s easier for a startup to build a plane from scratch than it is for a large company like Boeing or Airbus to move from their existing systems to something entirely new. The founders also say it will take a long time before electric aviation takes off. In contrast, hydrogen fuel cells are already widely deployed in heavy ground transportation, including buses and trucks. “Basically our plane is three trucks,” Chomel joked.

Image credits: Beyond aero

The challenges, he noted, mainly relate to hydrogen storage and thermal management of hydrogen in the context of aviation. The company already has a number of patents on this subject. One involves placing the hydrogen tanks in a fairing beneath the main body of the aircraft, while another involves a heat management system. The hydrogen system requires a relatively large heat exchanger, which would create additional drag on the aircraft, reducing its range and, therefore, its usefulness. “All of our intellectual property is about how to make a hydrogen airplane, not how to make a hydrogen powertrain. We haven’t revolutionized that,” he said. Instead, the team focuses on integrating all of these systems.

Beyond Aero’s current goal is to get its demonstrator off the ground and test its basic hypotheses. After that, work on the business jet will begin. Given business aviation’s massive carbon emissions per passenger mile flown, the team believes this is not only technologically feasible, but also a massive market which calls for an alternative to current jet fuel engines. “We want to meet a market with clients who have a problem with the public image (of private jet ownership), personal beliefs or their company’s ESG goals,” Chomel said. These customers have millions of dollars to buy a Falcon or a Gulfstream, but these players do not offer alternatives either.

Beyond Aero was part of Y Combinator’s Winter ’22 batch. The company has raised funding before joining YC, during and after, for a total of three rounds so far, with Initialized, Air France and a number of unicorn founders investing in the company during those rounds.

The team says it can draw on the vast existing aviation ecosystem to acquire all the parts it needs to build its aircraft, including the airframe itself. However, one of the challenges it will likely face will be ensuring that enough planes have hydrogen to be able to refuel. Hydrogen itself is already widely available, but there is no refueling infrastructure yet and there is obviously a chicken or egg problem here: no one will buy a plane that they do not can’t fuel reliably and no one will invest in it. build this infrastructure until there is demand.

Chomel argues that airports would only need a mobile hydrogen tank trailer, although it requires a bit of investment, while these airports are also looking to switch to sustainable aviation fuel and move away 100LL leaded fuel for general aviation piston. fleet.


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