Michel van Ireland, managing partner of Unified International, has recently come into the spotlight. Not only in the Dutch media, but also in the BBC, in The Guardian and in Aviation Week. The magazine, which the entire aviation world reads, he was allowed to tell about the world’s first: The new plane that runs on hydrogen.
Flying on hydrogen in 2028
Although it is not a new aircraft, because the engine is actually torn down from an existing aircraft and replaced by a hybrid hydrogen / electric motor. Hydrogen is converted into electricity and with that electricity the propellers are driven. The plane then has a range of about 750 km. And it’s interesting for regional commercial flights.
Everyone is pretty excited about it, and ready to fly green
The aircraft has not yet been rebuilt, but the deadline has already been set: In 2028, the first commercial flights with passengers will be completed with this aircraft, for example from Rotterdam to London. All this is developed and implemented with 17 Dutch organizations. The first requests for quotations have already been received, also from Asia and America.
An A-mark for aircraft manufacturers
Van Ireland finds recognition particularly important. ‘That the aviation industry still matters in the Netherlands. That after a hundred years we can start writing the next chapter as a supplier of completely green propulsion systems. ‘
Greening and sustainability are a matter for the public, he says. ‘Everyone is pretty excited about it, and ready to fly green.’ Young technicians are also knocking. “They just want to be a part of something that will also be their future.”
However, the partnership still requires a lot of work. The goal is again to conquer a fixed place for the future with this project. And that means becoming an A-brand, a lag etin the supply chain of new construction programs from the big boys, such as Airbus, Boeing and Embraer.
Accelerating sustainable flight
“We say ourselves: we have to play the Champions League. Like the Netherlands, we are in the selection, but if you want to be drafted, you have to make sure to deliver. You have to achieve something good, with results. ‘
There is also a big difference with other research projects, Van Ireland explains. It’s not about basic research, it’s about accelerating sustainable flight associated with an “earning capacity” for tomorrow.
We want to become an ASML-like party in the aviation industry
“We have chosen an aircraft type that is technically feasible, but which also has a sufficiently large market volume. Our proposal includes 1500 units that are eligible for conversion. It is also important that 90 percent of the existing network of airlines operating them remains intact. ‘
Lands at Ypenburg
The partners in this project include startups, established companies, knowledge institutions such as TU Delft, but also companies that are active in the maritime sector or in transport and can thus switch to aviation. ‘After a lot of work, we have seen that the chemistry is really good.’
Van Ireland is inspired by ASML in Eindhoven. “It is a party that brings things together strongly. They can because there is a good ecosystem around ASML. You can draw it in parallel. We want to become an ASML-like party in the aviation industry. ‘
Also read: This is how ASML became the largest manufacturer of chip machines in the world
The next step is to create a new organization, which will be launched ‘sometime in September’. ‘This ASML for aviation will land at Technology Park Ypenburg The Hague, where a new high-tech ecosystem is emerging. This is where the engineers come in, and test facilities have also been set up. ‘
Test flights in two years
‘What now stands in our roadmap is that we will start testing on a scaled basis in two years. This is what they call a iron bird† You build the setup in the aircraft on the ground and you test the entire chain in an integrated way. This is done at the Royal Dutch Aerospace Center. We are expected to complete the first test flights in Woensdrecht and Rotterdam two or three years later. ‘
This is not rocket science, we just have to get it done
Van Ireland is not worried about the technical solutions that still require some work. ‘Whether it is a fuel cell or engine development. This is not rocket science, we just have to get this done. ‘
Now the safety requirements in aviation are extremely strict, a reason why innovations take a long time. Here again, Van Ireland does not see any bears on the road. “Certification is one thing, but this is not about a brand new aircraft. We only need to address the part where the change is so that we can speed up this process. ‘
Technical discussions about flying on hydrogen
Perhaps the biggest challenge is still keeping the course, which he has noticed during the preparations for the past two years. Of course, wild ideas are launched with such a collection of bright heads, but then “results there good conversations,” he says.
There have also been ‘good technical discussions about the order in which certain stages of development are taken and about when certain technologies should be available at what level.’
The cross-pollination in the team is very good
‘But so far the cross-pollination in the team has been very good. They are all professionals. The transition is sometimes accompanied by some heat, and this is also the case when hydrogen is converted into electricity. ‘
Already two spin-offs
‘Of course we are critical, but we believe in the route we have taken in terms of business case and technology. It is very important to keep course in this and not to be led off the path, or to be tempted to all kinds of fringe events. It has worked so far. ‘
An example of this fringe event is the two spin-offs that have since emerged from this project. ‘A spin-off goes to Embraer for their sustainable roadmap for new aircraft. Another spin-off will go to NAC, the old Fokker, which will become a hydrogen brand. ‘
There has also been a lot of movement around that fuel. ‘Since we announced our initiative to the world, we have not had any complaints about interest from fuel suppliers. One by one knocks on the door. We supply green hydrogen, when do you need how much? ‘
Rotterdam as a test area
‘The fuel side, to put it bluntly, is not up to us. The airports must make sure that their infrastructure is in order, but of course they will not miss the boat either.
“Rotterdam sees itself as a test site to become sustainable. They like to be at the forefront of new technology. We gave them some suggestions because they want to be the first to create a hub feature for hydrogen flights.”
Market of 16 billion to fly on hydrogen
Hydrogen Aircraft Powertrain and Storage Systems (HAPSS) is an all-Dutch public-private partnership, set up by Unified International and InnovationQuarter with 17 companies, including Fokker, TU Delft, the Dutch government and the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center.
The National Growth Fund has already allocated € 383 million to the Aviation in Transition program, of which the HAPSS project is the largest part. The first step is to rebuild an existing 40 to 80-seat turboprop aircraft to fly on hydrogen, with the only emission: water.
With this new technology, a global market of 16 billion euros can be opened. From 2028, HAPSS was to provide 1,200 jobs.