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Universal Hydrogen Announces $20.5M in Series A Funding to Build and Test Full-Scale Hardware for Hydrogen Commercial Aircraft

·4-min read

Led by Playground Global, the financing round sets Universal Hydrogen on a path to have carbon-free airplanes in commercial service by 2025

Universal Hydrogen, the company fueling carbon-free flight, today announced its $20.5M Series A financing round led by prominent Silicon Valley venture fund, Playground Global, with the investor syndicate comprising Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation, and Future Shape. Founded in 2020 by aviation industry veterans Paul Eremenko, John-Paul Clarke, Jason Chua, and Jon Gordon, Universal Hydrogen stitches together the end-to-end hydrogen value chain for aviation, both for hydrogen fuel and hydrogen-powered airplanes.

Today’s financing allows Universal Hydrogen to accelerate the development of its hydrogen logistics network and regional aircraft conversion kits, and bolsters the company’s burgeoning commercial activities. Universal Hydrogen is building a fuel distribution network that connects hydrogen production directly to the airplane using modular capsules that are transported using the existing freight network, avoiding the need for costly new pipelines, storage facilities, and fuel trucks. The company is also developing conversion kits to retrofit existing 40-60 passenger regional airplanes with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. First commercial flights are planned no later than 2025, with operating costs equivalent to those of conventional hydrocarbon-burning airplanes and decreasing rapidly thereafter.

"We see the near-term decarbonization of regional aviation as a first step and catalyst, setting the whole industry on a path to meeting Paris Agreement emissions targets," said Paul Eremenko, Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO. "Hydrogen is today the only viable fuel for getting to true zero emissions in commercial aviation, and our goal is to de-risk the decision for Airbus, Boeing, and COMAC to make their next new airplane in the 2030s a hydrogen-powered one." To that end, Universal Hydrogen will make hydrogen economically and universally available at airports worldwide, work with regulators to develop appropriate certification and safety standards, and demonstrate passenger enthusiasm for carbon-free, hydrogen-powered flight.

Since Universal Hydrogen’s initial fundraise and partnering with Plug Power and magniX, the team successfully demonstrated a subscale fuel cell powertrain and hydrogen capsules. The company also secured interest from multiple airlines to serve as early customers. The current financing round will enable Universal Hydrogen to significantly grow its engineering team, complete a 2 megawatt fuel cell powertrain, and fully test both liquid and gaseous hydrogen capsules. The company is taking additional airline orders for its first several years of commercial deliveries. The company is also consolidating its operating footprint at Jack Northrop Field in Hawthorne, California.

"What attracted us to Universal Hydrogen was the team’s bold vision, depth of experience, and scalable ecosystem approach," said Peter Barrett, founder and general partner at Playground Global. "Rather than building a point solution for just one corner of the market, the team looked at the whole hydrogen value chain, identified the key gaps, and developed pragmatic solutions to close them."

Fortescue Metals Group (Fortescue) Founder and Chairman Dr. Andrew Forrest AO said Fortescue is committed to leading the global transition to a zero-carbon future by establishing global demand and supply of bulk green hydrogen. "At Fortescue Future Industries we are delighted to make this investment and support Universal Hydrogen in setting aviation on the path toward zero emissions," said Dr. Forrest. "Aviation is an essential part of this transformation and Universal Hydrogen has emerged as the clear leader in this space. We look forward to continuing to develop our relationship as we move toward a green energy future."

Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, today’s financing brings Universal Hydrogen’s total funding to $23.5M. To join the team please visit: https://www.hydrogen.aero/careers

About Universal Hydrogen

Universal Hydrogen is making hydrogen-powered commercial flight a near-term reality. The company takes a flexible, scalable, and capital-light approach to hydrogen logistics by transporting it in modular capsules over the existing freight network from green production sites to airports around the world. To accelerate market adoption, Universal Hydrogen is also developing a conversion kit to retrofit existing regional airplanes with a hydrogen-electric powertrain compatible with its modular capsule technology.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210422005869/en/

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