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GLOBALOUTLOOK CORPORATESTRATEGY


COMPANYPROFILE


Theflightpath to net-zero


ZEROAVIA CEO VAL MIFTAKHOV BELIEVES THAT HYDROGEN TECHNOLOGY WILL SOLVE THE WORLD’S AVIATION PROBLEMS. SETH O’FARRELL REPORTS


Although the industry accounts for comparatively less global carbon dioxide emissions than other trans- port sectors, it has not beenimmune to the drive for sustainability and efficiency accelerated by the Covid- 19 pandemic. Companies like the aircraft


H


developer ZeroAvia are noweyeing hydrogen-electric powertrains as an opportunity to decarbonise aviation as the transport sector pushes towards net-zero. “If you look at business-as-usual


growth, you see absolute emissions could triple or quadruple by 2050,” Val Miftakhov, the chief executive of ZeroAvia, tells fDi. “And if you think that every other industry decarbon- ises, then if we don’t do something drastic, aviation will become a larger and larger [part of the prob- lem],” he says. Founded in California in 2017,


ZeroAvia creates zero-emission pow- ertrains for both passenger and cargo planes. Prior to that, Mr Miftakhov, a Russian-born physicist- turned-entrepreneur, started the electric vehicle infrastructure com- pany eMotorWerks in 2010, which is currently owned by Italian


IF YOULOOKAT BUSINESS- AS-USUAL GROWTH, YOU SEE ABSOLUTE EMISSIONS COULDTRIPLEOR QUADRUPLE BY 2050


12


ydrogen, the darling of net- zero, has seen its appeal spill over into the aviation sector.


energy utility Enel. With themajority of its R&D


operations and staff nowin London, ZeroAvia was drawn to the UK by its government and industry thinking around sustainable aviation, and the presence of industry giants such as Rolls Royce and Airbus. In June 2020, it completed the UK’s first electric- powered flight of a commercial-scale aircraft; three months later, it com- pleted the first hydrogen-electric passenger plane flight.


Decarbonise aviation The aviation industry is responsible for about 12%of carbon dioxide emissions from transport sources, according to figures fromAir Transport Action Group. Themain producers aremulling over the opportunity to develop net-zero- emission aircrafts. Airbus aims to have its first hydrogen plane in ser- vice by 2035,while Boeing has not yet set out any such plans. The hydrogen aviation market is


expected to reach a valuation of $27.68bn by 2030, and $174.02bn by 2040, according to global transport consultancy Avia Solutions. ZeroAvia has been positioning


itself tomake themost of this growth, and investors have taken notice. After two successful funding rounds,which closed at $21.4mand $24.3m respectively in December 2020 and March 2021, the company lists British Airways, Shell Ventures, Amazon Climate Pledge Fund and Horizon Ventures among its inves- tors. In its first funding round, it also received additional grant funding of $16.3m fromthe UK government to bring a short-haul 19-seat hydrogen- electric powered aircraft to market by 2023. The second funding round was raised to develop the larger 50+


seat aircraft, expected to be opera- tional in 2026. Its total funding now stands at $74m. Geert van deWouw,managing


director at Shell Ventures, an early stage investor in the company, told fDi that “ZeroAvia offers innovative technology that could help the avia- tion industry decarbonise” and “we are very pleased to support themas an early stage investor”.


Expansionandinnovation ZeroAvia has also just opened a sub- sidiary in theNetherlands, and discus- sions are underway in Asia,Australia andNewZealand for the technology to be applied in regional aircraft. “As anything withaviation, it’s a global industry,”MrMiftakhov notes. The company had to withstand


the heavy winds of the Covid-19 pan- demic, which forced commercial avi- ation to a global standstill for months during 2020 and the begin- ning of 2021. Between April and the summer of 2020, it also experienced disruption on the fundraising side, making it difficult to close deals. But “long-range strategic thinking hap- pens at a timeof serious crisis”, Mr Miftakhov says, adding that the shock generated some positive think- ing once the initial disruptions tapered off. “A lot of people in the industry


and the government bodies started to ask, coming out of this crisis, what do we want this industry to look like?What do we want our- selves to look like?” Now, with the pandemic becom-


ing a boon for the clean energy tran- sition, renewable energy costs are at their lowest to date; however, inter- mittency remains a problem. For Mr Miftakhov, both of these have further advanced the case for


www.fDiIntelligence.com June/July 2021


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