MagniX branches from electric propulsion to add hydrogen

Hydrogen-fired Dash 8
An artistic rendering shows a hydrogen-powered Dash 8 aircraft equipped with a MagniX propulsion system, highlighted in the green cutaway view. (MagniX illustration)

MagniX has been working on electric propulsion systems for years, but now the Everett, Washington-based company is adding hydrogen fuel cells to its power repertoire for zero-carbon flights.

The expansion plan follows on from MagniX’s partnership with Universal Hydrogen, announced two years ago, and on last month’s first test flight of an all-electric Eviation aircraft equipped with MagniX’s 650-kilowatt engines.

Last year, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen said they would partner with Plug Power and AeroTEC to create a Hydrogen Aviation Test and Service Center at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., where the Eviation flight test took place.

MagniX announced today that it will develop hydrogen fuel cells to complement its battery-electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems.

“The future of sustainable aviation requires a mix of solutions,” said MagniX CEO Nuno Taborda in a press release. “We are bringing our experience and expertise to advancing hydrogen fuel cell technology, enabling us to power even more aircraft. MagniX leads the future with passion and innovation.”

Providing sufficient power for all-electric aircraft is a major challenge for the aerospace industry. Eviation’s battery-powered Alice aircraft – which is being developed in Moses Lake and at that company’s headquarters in Arlington, Wash. – is designed to carry only nine passengers. Last month, Eviation CEO Gregory Davis said battery technology would need to progress along with Alice’s development cycle to reach a 2027 target for delivering the planes.

By contrast, MagniX says that hydrogen has a relatively high energy density, allowing it to power electric planes carrying 50 to 90 passengers — that is, five to 10 times as many passengers as Alice can handle.

“Just as MagniX has led the world in electric propulsion, we now have the opportunity to once again lead the way in hydrogen technology development,” said Riona Armesmith, MagniX’s chief technology officer. “This technology has the potential to play an important role in ushering in the era of zero-carbon flights. By complementing our existing battery-electric and hybrid-electric programs, we can best serve the aerospace electric market and meet the needs of the planet and our customers.”

In addition to Universal Hydrogen and Eviation, MagniX’s partners include Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Desaer, New York-based Blade Urban Air Mobility, UK-based Faradair, Australian Sydney Seaplanes, Switzerland-based H55 and Vancouver, BC-based Harbor Air. MagniX also has a $74.3 million NASA contract to demonstrate electric propulsion technologies.

Another aviation company focused on hydrogen fuel cells is California-based ZeroAvia, which is working with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines to equip a De Havilland Q400 aircraft with its hydrogen-electric propulsion system for demonstration purposes. That work is being done at a research and development center in Everett’s Paine Field, not far from MagniX’s headquarters.

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