Can Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels in the Sky? This Startup Is Converting One Plane at a Time.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Can Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels in the Sky? This Startup Is Converting One Plane at a Time.

Facing a future filled with human-caused climate catastrophes, Universal Hydrogen has set its sights on the sky.

Frustrated that the aviation industry was not moving fast enough to cut down on emissions, former Airbus Chief Technology Officer Paul Eremenko teamed up last year with former Georgia Tech engineering professor John Paul Clarke and Jon Gordon, a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, to launch Universal Hydrogen.


The Hawthorne-based company produces a kit that eliminates carbon emissions from regional aircrafts. It's one of several startups working to reduce commercial travel's emissions. But it has even larger ambitions, seeking to develop a hydrogen fuel distribution network that it hopes will be used in airports around the world.

Universal Hydrogen said it is on track for their first flight test using their hydrogen fuel cell powertrain on a 40-person passenger regional airliner in 2022 at Moses Lake, Washington.

"We want to be in the business of supplying hydrogen to the user, in this case the airlines," said Chief Commercial Officer Rod Williams. "We'll be able to take an aircraft and convert it from the configuration today which uses a turboprop engine powered by Jet A-1 fossil fuel to a configuration which uses a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain and produces no carbon dioxide."

Universal Hydrogen hopes to sell hydrogen fuel capsules and module technology to serve as both the fuel tank within the aircraft and the method of transporting hydrogen from where it's produced to the aircraft. Their hydrogen fuel capsules offer 2X weight savings over conventional tech. "That's important because there's no infrastructure that exists today to transport hydrogen," Williams said.

Hydrogen is generally regarded as a cleaner fuel, since it produces only water when consumed by a fuel cell. There are a variety of ways that hydrogen can be produced, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass and renewable power like solar and wind.

There's a lot of money being invested in hydrogen, including a $52 million fund announced by the Energy Department in July. But not everyone is convinced of hydrogen's benefits; some research suggests it's still too energy-intensive to produce.

That's because much of the hydrogen now produced comes from natural gas facilities, but converting that production to wind and solar could open the gates to a greener aviation industry.

Mark Jacobson, the director of the Atmosphere and Energy program at Stanford University, and one of the authors of a study published in that found that so called "blue hydrogen," a product the natural gas industry has been promoting, produces a larger greenhouse gas footprint than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

To really make hydrogen green, he said the industry will need to convert to wind and solar.

"If the hydrogen is green hydrogen and it's used in a fuel cell in an aircraft, that's actually the best option for long distance [commercial air travel]," Jacobson said.

For smaller and short haul flights, he said electric planes are promising.

Universal Hydrogen announced last week that they secured $62 million to accelerate the first test flight of a hydrogen-powered aircraft that's expected to take off in 2022.

Investors in the round include Mitsubishi HC Capital, Tencent, Stratos, GE Aviation, Waltzing Matilda Aviation, Fourth Realm, Hawktail, Marc Benioff's TIME Ventures, Jeff Wilke and Spencer Rascoff's 75 and Sunny Ventures. (Full disclosure: Rascoff is the founder and executive chairman of dot.LA.)

The circumstances couldn't be more urgent. Air traffic dumped 915 million tons of greenhouse gas-causing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019. In 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated approximately 612,000 barrels of pollution-belching jet fuel was consumed each day by U.S. commercial passenger flights. And, given the uncertainty surrounding climate change legislation on Capitol Hill, it's unlikely the aviation industry will face much pressure to change how it operates. That's where Universal Hydrogen comes in.

Clean-burning hydrogen has long been an attractive alternative to petroleum in cars. Yet, due to the cost of implementation, it has yet to really catch on in that sector (though there are a few promising instances of adoption: hydrogen fuel cells have been used in cars built by Hyundai and Toyota). Adoption has been slow in aviation as well.

But that may be changing. Airlines and operators including Icelandair, Air Nostrum, Ravn Alaska, and ASL Aviation Holdings (cargo aircraft) have committed to purchasing Universal Hydrogen's conversion kits.

Though the company did not disclose the price of their kits, they expect the cost of their hydrogen will be far less than the jet fuel used today.

"Our goal is to not increase the cost of travel and we expect that by the time we get to 2025, we'll be able to achieve the same cost that an airline has today," Williams said.

How A UH2 Airplane Workswww.youtube.com

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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