Universal Hydrogen announced $20.5-million Series A financing round led by prominent Silicon Valley venture fund, Playground Global, with the investor syndicate comprising Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation, and Future Shape.
Founded in 2020 by aviation industry veterans Paul Eremenko, John-Paul Clarke, Jason Chua, and Jon Gordon, Universal Hydrogen is stitching together the end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation, both for hydrogen fuel and hydrogen-powered airplanes.
The financing allows Universal Hydrogen to accelerate the development of its hydrogen logistics network and regional aircraft conversion kits, and bolsters the company’s burgeoning commercial activities.
Universal Hydrogen is building a fuel distribution network that connects hydrogen production directly to the airplane using modular capsules that are transported using the existing freight network, avoiding the need for costly new pipelines, storage facilities, and fuel trucks.
Universal Hydrogen modular capsule.
The company is also developing conversion kits to retrofit existing 40-60 passenger regional airplanes with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain.
Rendering of regional airplane with conversion kit and fuel capsules.
First commercial flights are planned no later than 2025, with operating costs equivalent to those of conventional hydrocarbon-burning airplanes and decreasing rapidly thereafter.
We see the near-term decarbonization of regional aviation as a first step and catalyst, setting the whole industry on a path to meeting Paris Agreement emissions targets. Hydrogen is today the only viable fuel for getting to true zero emissions in commercial aviation, and our goal is to de-risk the decision for Airbus, Boeing, and COMAC to make their next new airplane in the 2030s a hydrogen-powered one.
—Paul Eremenko, Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO
To that end, Universal Hydrogen will make hydrogen economically and universally available at airports worldwide, work with regulators to develop appropriate certification and safety standards, and demonstrate passenger enthusiasm for carbon-free, hydrogen-powered flight.
Since Universal Hydrogen’s initial fundraise and partnering with Plug Power and magniX, the team successfully demonstrated a sub-scale fuel cell powertrain and hydrogen capsules. The company also secured interest from multiple airlines to serve as early customers.
The current financing round will enable Universal Hydrogen to grow its engineering team, complete a 2 MW fuel cell powertrain, and fully test both liquid and gaseous hydrogen capsules. The company is taking additional airline orders for its first several years of commercial deliveries. The company is also consolidating its operating footprint at Jack Northrop Field in Hawthorne, California.