Aviation News

Bill Gates boosts Zeroavia aviation venture and Biden energy plan

Artwork shows a commercial airliner with a hydrogen-electric powertrain. (ZeroAvia via PR Newswire)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is putting his money as well as his mouth behind the push for new energy technologies.

First, about the money: Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures is doubling down on its investment in ZeroAvia, a startup that’s working on a hybrid hydrogen-electric powertrain for aircraft capable of flying more than 50 passengers.

Back in December, Breakthrough Energy Ventures led a Series A funding round that raised $21.4 million for the U.S.-British company, with Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund joining in the round.

This week, ZeroAvia announced that Gates’ energy innovation fund is participating in a follow-up investment round amounting to another $24.3 million. This round is led by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, with British Airways joining as a new investor. In addition to Breakthrough Energy Ventures, several previous investors — Ecosystems Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures and SystemIQ — kicked in fresh funding.

This brings ZeroAvia’s total private investment to more than $53 million, and the total funding raised since the company’s inception in 2017 to nearly $74 million. The latter figure includes grants from the British government.

ZeroAvia is planning to demonstrate a 19-seat, hydrogen-electric aircraft by 2023, achieve commercialization for its 600-killowatt powertrain in 2024, and enter the market for aircraft with 50 or more seats by 2026. To serve that market, the company is kicking off a development program for a 2-megawatt powertrain.

“This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale,” Val Miftakhov, CEO and founder of ZeroAvia, said in a news release. “With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

ZeroAvia’s vision calls for providing zero-carbon power for 100-seat aircraft by 2030.

Clean energy innovations like ZeroAvia’s powertrain would come in for a significant boost in the years ahead if Congress approves the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan that President Joe Biden unveiled this week. Today in a tweet, Gates said Biden’s plan would create jobs and also address the global climate challenge.

Breakthrough Energy’s executive vice president, Mike Boots, expanded on Gates’ encouraging words in an interview with The Washington Post. He said Biden’s plan provides a blueprint for scaling up clean energy strategies — for example, by funding demonstration projects and using its purchasing power to boost the market for innovative technologies.

Boots pointed to the production of hydrogen and other sustainable aviation fuels as prime examples. “Those are technologies that are ready to go; they’re just a little too expensive,” he told the Post.

The Biden plan would pair investments in 15 decarbonized hydrogen demonstration projects in distressed communities with production tax credits.

ZeroAvia isn’t the only hydrogen-electric aviation venture that’s out there: California-based Universal Hydrogen, for example, is working on a hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain that could be used to retrofit 40-seat regional aircraft. Last year, Everett, Wash.-based MagniX announced a partnership with Universal Hydrogen to develop the powertrain.

MagniX also has deals to provide a biofuel-electric powertrain for Faradair, a British startup, as well as all-electric powertrains for Harbour Air, a seaplane company headquartered in Vancouver, B.C., and for Australia’s Sydney Seaplanes. As if all that weren’t enough, MagniX is working with its sister company, Eviation, to build an all-electric airplane from the ground up.

MagniX recently moved into a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing building that’s just north of Boeing’s sprawling airplane factory in Everett and not far from Eviation’s final assembly site in Arlington, Wash.

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