Electric aircraft engine maker ZeroAvia has developed a high-performance air compressor specially designed for aviation fuel cell systems. The company claims it is the world’s first and supports fuel cell systems with up to 900 kW of power.
ZeroAvia says the new component is “many times more powerful than any existing fuel cell compressors and offers superior power density”. The company may prove said performance in its own ZA600 and ZA2000 engines. Until now, the systems relied on compressors not explicitly developed for aviation, compromising the performance, size and weight.
Especially in aircraft with fuel cell-electric propulsion, it is “a key challenge” to deliver the high oxygen flow for the chemical reaction in the FC stacks to provide sufficient electricity to power the aircraft. However, the air becomes thinner at high altitudes, with lower oxygen content. Therefore, the compressors “need to be powerful and efficient, while not adding undue weight to the propulsion system and thus impacting payload and range,” writes ZeroAvia.
Initial testing has shown that the in-house design offers highly stable performance across various power and operating environment requirements. ZeroAvia also lists design features, which include the compressor being powered by energy provided by the core electric drive system, so the usual inverters and electric motors are not required. “The resulting reduction in complexity will aid certification of ZeroAvia’s powertrains, and fewer components means further reduced weight and greater reliability,” says the company.
Rudolf Coertze, CTO of Hydrogen of ZeroAvia, said the new compressor technology was “critical in delivering optimal performance in the final, certified ZA600 engine technology”.
The ZA600 is reportedly intended for aircraft with nine to 19 seats and shall become available in 2025. The ZA600 was also installed in the Dornier 228, which made its maiden flight with fuel-cell propulsion in January 2023. ZeroAvia is also working towards the ZA2000, a propulsion system for regional aircraft with 40 to 80 seats planned for launch in 2027.
ZeroAvia’s systems use hydrogen in fuel cells to generate electricity, which power electric motors to turn the aircraft’s propellers. The company claims pre-order agreements for nearly 2,000 engines with airlines including American, United and Alaska. Based in the US and the UK, ZeroAvia has already secured experimental certificates for its three prototype aircraft from the CAA and FAA.