What Is Universal Hydrogen?
The startup was founded in 2020 by aviation industry veterans Paul Eremenko, John-Paul Clarke, Jason Chua, and Jon Gordon. Notably, Eremenko has served as the chief technology officer (CTO) of major airline companies Airbus and United Technologies. Before co-founding this business, the entrepreneur also launched two of the industry’s largest hybrid-electric flight demonstrators: E-Fan X and Project 804.
The California company is building a fuel distribution network that connects hydrogen production directly to airplanes using modular capsules. The startup is also developing a conversion kit to help make existing airplanes compatible with its technology. The company has the ambitious goal to get its business off the ground and have its first commercial flights no later than 2025, with operating costs for the planes fitted by the business comparable to conventional hydrogen-burning airplanes.
“Hydrogen today is the only viable fuel for getting to true zero emissions in commercial aviation,” Eremenko, who now serves as the CEO of Universal Hydrogen, said in a statement about the recent funding round. “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.”
Money and Investors
Prior to this most recent round, the startup secured an undisclosed amount of money from Trucks Venture Capital. With this money, the company scaled up its engineering team to build full-scale gaseous and liquid hydrogen modules, and the business also set goals to test its prototypes.
The startup has since pulled in $20.5 million in a Series A round closed this month. The multi-million dollar funding round for the business was led by early stage investment firm Playground Global. Fortescue Future Industries, Coatue, Global Founders Capital, Plug Power, Airbus Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Sojitz Corporation, JetBlue Technology Ventures, and Future Shape all invested in the business as well.
What’s particularly interesting about this funding round is the number of big-name companies involved, including multiple global airline brands. JetBlue, for example, invested in the company to get a “seat at the table in the fast-developing hydrogen for aviation sector,” according to Jim Lockheed, Investment Principal at Jetblue Technology Ventures.
The Future of the Company
This funding will help the startup grow its engineering team to test its products. The business has already secured interest from “multiple airlines to serve as early customers” and said it will begin taking “additional airline orders for its first several years of commercial deliveries.”
Universal Hydrogen isn’t the only business vying to lead the aviation industry’s shift to sustainability. UK-based company ZeroAvia is developing its own fuel cell aircraft and has raised a total of $62 million toward that goal to date. However, this California company has the benefits of a renowned founding team and already established relationships with major airlines, all of which will help it take off when it’s ready to launch.
About the Author
Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.