Two major hydrogen-based aviation moves have been announced today – one from billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries, and the other by a relatively unknown player, Aviation H2.
Aviation H2 claims it will be flying with hydrogen in 2023
Despite its newcomer status (precisely when Aviation H2 was established is difficult to say, as the company doesn’t seem to have its own website), Aviation H2 today released the news it’s appointed Dr Helmut Mayer and Christof Mayer to lead the development of an emissions-free aircraft, which it claims could be flying in “as little as 18 months.” This short lead time, it says, will be made possible by “modifying existing aeroplanes to be powered by hydrogen-based technologies, which are already transforming the motor vehicle industry.”
Aviation H2 is entirely owned by Liberty Energy Capital Pty Ltd, an Australian investment firm with “significant positions” in 18 renewable energy companies, including H2X Global, Patriot Hydrogen, Sweetman Renewables, Verdant Earth Technologies, Port Anthony Renewables Limited, and more. Liberty Energy Capital says it’s poised to have a $490 million equity in renewable energy companies across Australia over the next three years.
Branding itself as a renewable energy investor, Liberty Energy Capital’s portfolio is noticeably heavy on biomass-to-hydrogen projects holding almost every company which has biomass-based projects in Australia. Biomass is not zero emissions technology. Liberty Energy Capital also holds a 30% stake in Pure Hydrogen, a somewhat misleading name given the company owns three gas projects, including the Windorah Gas Project in the Cooper Basin, one of Australia’s most prolific onshore petroleum basins.
On its website, Liberty Energy Capital say it is “100% owned by Sirius Capital Pty Ltd, itself owned by a group of Family Office’s”. Strange grammar and punctuation aside, family offices usually refers to private wealth management advisory firms that serve ultra-high-net-worth individuals.
Despite the rather mysterious origins of the company, Aviation H2 says the newly appointed Mayer brothers have 60 years of combined experience in large-scale machine design for industrial purposes. “The Mayer brothers currently have three potential solutions for converting a traditional aircraft into a renewable model and will conduct a series of tests to identify which state-of-the-art technology is best suited for powering an aeroplane in a way that can be commercialised,” it said in its statement.
Fortescue Future Industries signs MoU with Universal Hydrogen
On the more established side end of town, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) today announced it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Los Angeles-based company Universal Hydrogen, which is focussed on reducing carbon emissions in aviation.
Under the agreement, FFI will supply green hydrogen to Universal Hydrogen to power regional and other aviation sectors until 2035. The pair will also conduct a scoping study to develop green hydrogen production and logistics hubs in southeast Queensland, Iceland, and New Zealand.
The MoU will see FFI take the lead on green hydrogen production and supply activities while Universal Hydrogen will take the lead on delivery logistics to airports and on-airport fuel services.
FFI Chairman Andrew Forrest said its collaboration with Universal Hydrogen will lay the foundations for a zero-emissions aviation industry in the near-term future. “Electrifying our planes will only go so far and will only be appropriate for smaller aircraft, due to current limitations around battery technologies. Green hydrogen, in contrast, is a practical solution we can use right now,” Forrest said.
Universal Hydrogen’s CEO Paul Eremenko said the agreement will help it not only ensure its supply of green hydrogen, “but to support the entry into service of a hydrogen single aisle airplane in the 2030s.”
“Through the investment of companies like FFI, we expect green hydrogen to be at cost parity with jet fuel on an equivalent energy basis by the mid-2020s, and to be significantly cheaper in the years that follow,” Mr Eremenko said.
Universal Hydrogen, in which FFI is also an early investor, is building a flexible, scalable, and capital-light solution to hydrogen logistics for aviation through its modular capsule technology. According to the companies’ statement, these capsules can be filled with gaseous and liquid hydrogen and are delivered from the point of production directly to the aircraft using existing freight networks and cargo handling equipment. Universal Hydrogen says it is also developing a powertrain retrofit kit to enable regional passenger and cargo airplanes to be converted to fly on hydrogen. The first test flight of Universal Hydrogen’s technology is anticipated in 2022, with revenue services planned for 2025.
The MoU announcement today comes after FFI was recognised by US President Joe Biden at COP26 as one of several companies to join his “First Movers Coalition.”
Fortescue Future Industries has this year announced what can only be described as a litany of partnerships and global green hydrogen projects, establishing itself as one of the most consequential players not only in Australia but globally. From his roots in iron ore exporting, Forrest has performed a major sustainability pivot in the last few years and is today highly critical of Australian governments’ support of blue, grey and other “greenwashed” hydrogen projects, which unfortunately abound.
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The implication is that Liberty is not a serious renewable energy company but FFI is. Fortescue is one of the largest private emitters of carbon in the world, and it has only increased since Andrew Forrest started his hydrogen crusade. To date they have done very little to reduce carbon, if press releases and public statements extolling their own green ambitions are excluded. The press laps it up with virtually zero scrutiny. On the less “established side of town” Liberty has been instrumental in developing and capitalizing IBE, one of the most advanced hydrogen developers in Australia. Press releases aren’t always news.
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