Aviation emissions have doubled since the mid-1980s, Our World in Data reports, and they account for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. is becoming more ambitious about reaching net-zero emissions, and President Joe Biden even signed an executive order to push for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. Addressing air travel is a large part of that, which has inspired innovation in sustainable aviation fuels, as well as in technologies that promise to electrify flight.
"The electrification of aviation has come a long way in recent years. In 2008, the industry adopted a global, sector-wide climate action framework — a world first. Since then, the industry has continued to recognize and respond to environmental concerns expressed by consumers, the environmental lobby, governments and other players by, for example, cutting emissions and reducing noise levels," Stephane Lagut, a global aerospace and defense sector leader at Ernst & Young, told GreenBiz. "Together, these factors have made a greener, cleaner aviation sector inevitable — and that was before the pandemic struck."
Air travel took a big hit because of the pandemic. Still, air mobility investments groups are ready to pour funds into electric aviation. Take UP.Partners. The firm launched a $230 million venture capital fund last fall to back electric aviation companies. With more financial backing, we may see some all-electric passenger aircrafts in the sky by 2026.
In some ways, the unexpected halt in traveling in 2020 may have helped boost this transition. For one thing, free-falling demand led to low aircraft use, triggering decommissioning of older aircraft sooner than planned. Cost pressures on the system are also driving exploration of investments in more cost-effective and sustainable aircraft, Lagut said.
The industry may still be far off from urban air mobility, a.k.a flying taxis. (See our separate list for some of those players.) Still, advancements in electric and autonomous vehicles have sparked renewed excitement about integrating battery power more broadly in aviation, Lagut explained. Funding, talent, battery capacities and other energy storage concerns will be some of the biggest hurdles in the electric aviation industry, but companies aren’t shying away from the challenges.
The global market for electric aircraft is projected to reach $27.7 billion by 2030, according to market research company MarketsandMarkets. Experts say the growth in this market stems from urban mobility aircraft deployment and the increasing use of electric aircraft for cargo and other activities.
Below, you can find six electric aviation companies to watch in 2022. We’re featuring these privately held companies because they are all moving into new phases of product development, raised funding to fuel growt, or are simply powering forward on their missions.
It’s important to note that these aren’t the only companies doing the best work, but these are some we think you should know about. We also chose electric aviation companies we haven’t previously featured (check out the 2019 list) and that aren’t attached to projects managed by larger corporations or airlines.
Here they are:
Founded in 2019, San Francisco Bay Area-based Airflow is building an aircraft for middle-mile logistics and passengers. The aircraft, which can carry nine passengers or 2,000 pounds of cargo, will be staffed and operated by one pilot. The company was launched by a team from the former Airbus Vahana eVTOL program, which worked on an electric-powered personal air vehicle prototype.
Over the next decade, Airflow wants to develop fully autonomous, cargo-carrying vehicles. For now, the company is focused on developing its flagship electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft. Airflow recently landed partnerships with Honeywell and Tailwind Air Service to help develop its aircraft. Through its partnership with Honeywell, Airflow will be testing out the company’s traffic radar tech on its aircraft and developing personalized avoidance algorithms.
"Honeywell recognizes the impact that an eSTOL manned aircraft can have on not only passenger and middle-mile logistics operations but also on building a sustainable future for aviation. We want our technologies to be a part of that journey and future," Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of urban air mobility at Honeywell Aerospace, said in a press release. "Airflow is founded by some of aerospace’s most experienced professionals, and we’re excited to help the company deliver upon both their short- and long-term goals, which are to expand the benefits of aviation as well as reduce carbon emissions with an electric aircraft."
The company hasn’t yet disclosed funding details but states on its website that it will be sharing venture capital backing soon. Airflow is led by CEO Marc Ausman, a former chief strategist on the Airbus Vahana program. Before launching Airflow, Ausman also held executive roles at Yuneec, Eclipse Aviation and the U.S. Navy.
Burlington, Vermont-based Beta Technologies is an aerospace manufacturer developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircrafts for the cargo and logistics industry. Founded in 2017, the company started as CEO Kyle Clark’s senior thesis project in college. He threw himself into learning aircraft design, ultimately landing on the concept Beta is advancing today.
The startup has raised about $450 million, according to a spokesperson, including a $368 million Series A closed in May. It has attracted investments from investors including the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund.
But Beta isn’t just in the business of developing electric aircraft; the company also provides rapid charging stations at airports and is developing a training program with CAE, a Canada-based simulation technologies manufacturer, for electric vertical pilots and maintenance technicians. Clark said Beta has more than 60 rapid charging stations online or in construction from here to Arkansas.
"The future of transportation is electric, and Beta enables it," Clark told GreenBiz. "We’re building all the elements needed for deployment of electric aircraft — including the aircraft itself as well as a cross-country charging infrastructure that supports all-electric vehicles — eVTOL, trucks, cars — not just our own."
With its steadfast mission of expanding electric aviation worldwide, Beta built, tested and flew its first eVTOL aircraft, Ava, in under a year. The company took lessons from its flagship aircraft and built Alia, which has a 50-foot wingspan and will be the aircraft Beta takes through FAA certification. Clark said Alia is a "zero operational emissions aircraft" that reduces material waste generated in production and ongoing maintenance, offering a lower impact means of transportation for use cases across the board.
Heart Aerospace, a Sweden-based electric aviation startup, is developing a 19-passenger electric aircraft that can travel 250 miles and a backup generator for energy reserve and range extension. The company coined its flagship aircraft Heart ES-19, and United Airlines and commercial aviation holding company Mesa Air Group ordered 200 of Heart Aerospace’s inaugural electric aircrafts.
Last summer, the company closed a $35 million Series A funding round led by big names, including Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures and United’s venture arm. Heart Aerospace spun out of a research project at Sweden-based Chalmers University of Technology in 2018, and the company was a part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 cohort. The company’s deal with United and Mesa was announced in conjunction with its Series A and includes an option of purchasing up to 100 additional aircraft, TechCrunch reported.
"We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel. A lot of startups are presenting very novel aircraft architectures, spending several years in subscale testing just to demonstrate the basic functionality of the aircraft," Anders Forslund said in a press release. "We’ve avoided these pitfalls by relying on a conventional aircraft architecture," says Forslund. "We can devote almost all our resources to the formal development — bringing this aircraft through certification and into commercial service."
Heart Aerospace has raised $37.3 million since its inception to develop its electric aircrafts, and the company plans to deliver its first commercial aircraft by 2026. We expect the company will continue to release positive progress updates following a successful flight of a subscale model of its Heart ES-19 aircraft in December. Check out the flight here.
Los Angeles-based Universal Hydrogen is on a mission to make a flexible and carbon-free future possible by making hydrogen the universal fuel choice. The company developed a modular capsule technology solution for hydrogen transportation to power electric aircrafts. Universal Hydrogen also develops conversion kits that aircraft operators can purchase to retrofit their existing regional airplanes with hydrogen-electric powertrains compatible with its modular capsule technology.
In October, Universal Hydrogen secured $62 million in funding to advance the first test flight of its hydrogen fuel cell powertrain on a regional airliner in 2022. The company said its tech is appealing because the modular capsules are lighter than your typical hydrogen storage options.
Universal Hydrogen also landed a partnership with Connect Airlines in December to help it become the first zero-emission U.S.-based airline. The airline is purchasing 24 of Universal Hydrogen’s green hydrogen conversion kits to transition to an actual zero-emission operation. Universal Hydrogen has signed various other letters of intent with airline operators interested in purchasing its conversion kits.
Launched in 2016, New York-based Wright Electric builds technology for large commercial airplanes and is developing its flagship electric aircraft. The Wright Spirit will be a zero-emission 100-passenger airplane for one-hour flights, and the Wright 1 will be a 186-seat single-aisle aircraft with an 800-mile range.
The company’s mission is to eliminate carbon emissions from all flights under 800 miles, so it’s targeting single-aisle planes, which account for 45 percent of all aviation emissions. Wright plans on doing this by developing electric motors, high-frequency inverters and adaptable propulsion systems. The company is in the development stages for its motors and inverters and will be working on the propulsion fans this year. After 2022, Wright will be in testing mode ahead of its plans to launch the Wright Spirit by 2026 and the Wright 1 by 2030.
Wright is funded by NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, Y Combinator, Lionheart Ventures, the U.S. Air Force and other investors. The company is designing its electric motors to be scalable from 500 kilowatts to four megawatts.
"The level of power and weight demonstrated with our new 2 MW motor will become the baseline for any new electric aircraft and is a key technology in our megawatt system," Wright CEO Jeff Engler said in a press release.
After closing a $35 million Series B in December, this hydrogen-electric aircraft developer is hyper-focused on its growth plans.
ZeroAvia manufactures hydrogen-electric aircrafts to improve emission performance. The company was founded in 2017 in San Carlos, California, but it moved to England last year. ZeroAvia has made significant strides in developing its commercial entry product. The company began electrical testing of its initial powertrain design in 2019, and most recently, in August, ZeroAvia did some ground testing on its hydrogen aircraft engine.
In its first HyFlyer I project, the company completed 35 test flights of its six-seat prototype. For its HyFlyer II project, ZeroAvia is developing a 600-kilowatt hydrogen-electric powertrain for a 10-20 seat aircraft and preparing for flight testing in early 2022. The company has secured commercial deals with big names such as Alaska Airlines, ASL Aviation Holdings and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Regional Jet division. ZeroAvia has secured more than 460 commitments to deliver on its hydrogen-electric engines and other programs.
Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 27 to correct the funding amount for Beta.