United Airlines Looks to Buy 100 Hydrogen Electric Engines
December 14, 2021
United became the largest airline to invest in zero-emission, hydrogen-electric
engines for regional aircraft, the latest move toward achieving its goal to be
100% green by reducing its GHG emissions 100% by 2050, without relying on
traditional carbon offsets.
Through a new equity stake in ZeroAvia, a leading company focused on
hydrogen-electric aviation solutions, United expects to buy up to 100 of the
company’s new zero-emission, 100% hydrogen-electric engines (ZA2000-RJ). The
engine could be retrofit to existing United Express aircraft as early as 2028.
One potential use is on United’s unique CRJ-550, the only 50-seat aircraft which
offers first class and other premium amenities, making this leading aircraft
even better and marking another first for United.
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission
air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in
front on this important emerging technology,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United.
“United continues to look for opportunities to not only advance our own
sustainability initiatives but also identify and help technologies and solutions
that the entire industry can adopt.”
Hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a
fuel cell to power an electric motor instead of burning fossil fuel. Because no
fuel is burned, there are no climate-harming emissions or carbon released into
the atmosphere when the engines are operated.
The ZA2000-RJ is expected to be used in pairs as a new power source for existing
regional aircraft. Under the agreement with United Airlines Ventures, United
will pursue a conditional purchase agreement for 50 ZeroAvia ZA2000-RJ engines,
with an option for 50 more, enough for up to 50 twin-engine aircraft which would
be operated by United Express partners once they are fully developed and
certified by regulators as soon as 2028.
“This support by United, alongside our other forward-thinking partners,
demonstrates the importance of hydrogen-electric propulsion in the future of
sustainable flight,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO and of ZeroAvia. “The
United Express routes powered by hydrogen-electric aircraft will be enabling
large numbers of passengers to take zero-emission flights well within this
ZeroAvia is accelerating development of its ZA2000 engine and will soon begin
ground tests of its ZA600 in a 19-seat aircraft, with the aim of entering
commercial service with this smaller engine by 2024. ZeroAvia’s roadmap calls
for it to develop hydrogen-electric propulsion for progressively larger
aircraft. In September 2020, ZeroAvia completed the world’s first hydrogen fuel
cell powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft. ZeroAvia has already secured
experimental certificates for two prototype aircraft from the FAA in the United
States and the Civil Aviation Authority in the U.K. and has passed significant
flight test milestones.
On December 1, United made aviation history by operating the first passenger
flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel, from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
The flight showcased the safety of sustainable aviation fuel and the potential
for a dramatically reduced carbon footprint for aviation.
Earlier this year, United announced a record-setting agreement to purchase
sustainable aviation fuel from Alder Fuels and has now committed to purchase
more than twice as much of this fuel as the rest of the world’s airlines
These investments and the accomplishments below make United the global aviation
leader in supporting technology used to sustainably power commercial aircraft:
- United recently
agreed to purchase
1.5 billion gallons of SAF from Alder
Fuels - enough to fly more than 57
million passengers and is also an investor in
Fulcrum BioEnergy, where United
has an option to purchase up to 900 million
gallons of additional SAF.
- In July 2021,
United Airlines Ventures (UAV) announced that
along with Breakthrough Energy Ventures
and Mesa Airlines, it has
invested in electric aircraft startup Heart
Heart Aerospace is developing
the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that has
the potential to fly customers with zero
emissions when powered by renewable electricity.
- In July 2021,
Transport World magazine named United its
Eco-Airline of the Year
for the third time.
- In June 2021, as
part of its agreement with
United announced plans to purchase 15 of Boom’s
“Overture” airliners (with an option for 35
more). Slated to carry passengers in 2029, the
net-zero aircraft plans to fly on 100% SAF.
announced an agreement to work with Archer
to accelerate the development and production of
their electric aircraft – an urban mobility
solution that has the potential to serve as an
'air taxi,' giving United customers another
opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint
before they even board a United flight.
- In 2020, United
became the first airline to announce a
commitment to invest in direct air capture, a
carbon capture and sequestration technology.
United remains committed to investing in carbon
capture and sequestration as a key pathway to
achieving its climate goals.
- In 2019, United
operated the Flight for the Planet, which
represented the most-eco-friendly commercial
flight of its kind in the history of commercial
- In 2018, United
became the first U.S. airline to commit to
reducing its GHG emissions, by 50% by 2050. This
goal has since been superseded by the airline’s
100% green commitment.
- In 2016, United
became the first airline globally to use SAF in
regular operations on a continuous basis with
SAF from World Energy.