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New Horizons

Dr. Anita Sengupta: Hydrogen Electric Aircraft Are Coming

Meet an aerospace engineer on a mission to power aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells.

Aerospace engineer Dr. Anita Sengupta – the award-winning founder and CEO of Hydroplane Ltd. – is on a mission to provide electric aviation with a regional range. Hydroplane is developing hydrogen fuel cell powered propulsion systems to convert existing aircraft to green energy.

“In electrification for propulsion there’s a bit of competition between battery electric and hydrogen electric power,” says Sengupta. “Batteries are great for short trips, but hydrogen allows for more miles, higher power and more efficiency, because of higher energy per unit mass.”

She believes hydrogen power is also superior from an operational cost perspective.

“Hydrogen power will play an important role in sustainability.”

The advent of hydrogen-powered aircraft is closer than many may realize, according to Sengupta, who foresees hydrogen entering the GA market in less than five years, with airlines potentially utilizing hydrogen for regional flights in five to 10 years.

She points out that hydrogen enjoys overlapping technology and innovation with the ground vehicle sector. Buses and other ground vehicles already utilize hydrogen power; even the marine industry is innovating in hydrogen power.
Sengupta notes hydrogen-powered aviation faces two key challenges.

“Infrastructure is the biggest challenge to hydrogen-powered aircraft,” she explains, adding regulatory hurdles are another challenge.

Local, regional and federal entities are currently debating whether to invest in aircraft enabled by lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen, she says. Sengupta believes investment should be funneled to both types because each supports different use cases and will create cleaner modes of transportation.

The industry also needs to help legislators and regulators understand that hydrogen electric propulsion is safe, reliable and sustainable when generated properly.

Hydroplane reflects Sengupta’s dedication to sustainability and fostering a more inclusive aerospace industry. Its engineering team is 30% female, while minorities make up the majority of its staff.

In fact, Sengupta’s impact on aerospace innovation and inclusivity was recently awarded the prestigious Katherine and Marjorie Stinson Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association. The U.S. Department of Commerce selected Sengupta and Hydroplane for its 2023 Minority Business Emerging Tech Firm of the Year Award.

“Hydrogen power will play an important role in sustainability,” Sengupta says. “Hydrogen, if produced with green electricity, is emission-free. This means, if the hydrogen is produced by solar or wind power, then the only output is liquid water.”

Dr. Anita Sengupta is an aerospace engineer, rocket scientist, professor, commercial pilot and executive whose work has enabled exploration of Mars, asteroids and deep space. Her career spans Boeing Space and Communications, NASA and the electric Virgin Hyperloop transport system. She’s now CEO at Hydroplane and a research professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California.

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