United Airlines plans to buy up to 100 hydrogen electric engines over the next several years as part of its broader goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent by 2050.
The airline announced it has taken an equity stake in startup ZeroAvia, a hydrogen-electric aircraft manufacturer.
Rather than burning fossil fuel that releases carbon into the atmosphere like traditional aircrafts, hydrogen-electric engines use electricity created by a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to power motors.
United said it agreed to purchase 50 of ZeroAvia’s zero-emission ZA2000-RJ engines with an option to acquire 50 more. The airline said the engines could be retrofitted to existing aircraft as early as 2028, and may be utilized to power 50-seat aircraft that have shorter flight range than larger aircraft.
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The deal makes United the largest airline to invest in hydrogen-electric motors.
“Hydrogen-electric engines are one of the most promising paths to zero-emission air travel for smaller aircraft, and this investment will keep United out in front on this important emerging technology,” Scott Kirby, CEO of United, said in a statement.
ZeroAvia last year completed the world’s first hydrogen fuel-cell-powered flight of a commercial aircraft with a six-seater plane that flew for about 20 minutes before landing.
Earlier this year, the company announced plans to carry out the first commercial hydrogen-electric flights between Rotterdam and London in 2024. The company is currently developing a 19-seater aircraft powered entirely by hydrogen.
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