PARIS — On the opening day of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced that California-based clean energy startup Twelve plans to set up an industrial facility in Moses Lake to make jet fuel from electricity, water and air.
He also announced that another sustainable aviation pioneer working on hydrogen-powered flight, ZeroAvia, will expand its existing facility in Everett. By the middle of next year, Zerovaia plans to increase its current 30-strong workforce there by a factor of five.
Inslee said the two companies add to a “rapidly growing ecosystem of world-leading innovators located in Washington state who are building the future of sustainable aviation fuels and zero-emission propulsion systems.”
Startup Twelve, named for the most common isotope of carbon, aims to make carbon products typically derived from fossil fuels using only renewable energy, water and CO2 that’s in the air.
Electricity from renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric, is used to extract hydrogen from water and combine it with CO2 captured from the air to produce hydrocarbons like those derived from oil.
Because it’s made with electricity, Twelve’s synthetic version of sustainable aviation fuel is often called e-fuel. It has branded its product E-Jet.
Though some fossil fuel energy may be used at some point in production and distribution of e-fuel — perhaps through transportation, for example — it is expected to have 90% lower lifecycle emissions than regular jet fuel.
Twelve was formed in 2015 by three Stanford University classmates: Chief Technology Officer Kendra Kuhl, a chemistry Ph.D.; Chief Science Officer Etosha Cave, a mechanical engineering Ph.D.; and CEO Nicholas Flanders who has a master’s degree in business and environment.
The startup was incubated, Silicon Valley style, at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab at the University of California and in 2021 received $57 million in venture capital seed funds.
Twelve’s web page reveals its headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., to be a series of small-scale labs. The planned Moses Lake facility will be a dramatic and likely a challenging scale-up to an industrial-scale project.
“Commercial-scale production of E-Jet fuel is a major milestone in our mission of creating a world run on air,” said Flanders. “Washington is the perfect location for our facility, with its abundant renewable energy resources to power our carbon transformation process and longstanding global leadership in the aviation industry.”
The announcement did not disclose funding for the new facility.
Washington state recently passed substantial tax credits for large-scale producers of clean energy and is streamlining the permitting to accelerate building clean technology facilities.
A groundbreaking event for the Moses Lake facility is planned for July 11.
Separately Monday, Inslee announced a grant from the state’s reserve fund to ZeroAvia, which is developing a hydrogen-powered plane, to expand its facility at Paine Field in Everett.
It has so far raised about $150 million. About $20 million of that is public money to fund research, most of it from the U.K. government.
The rest is private investment from venture capital firms focused on clean technologies, including Breakthrough Energy, funded by BIll Gates, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge fund.
The size of the newly announced Washington state grant was not disclosed. Zeroavia founder and CEO, Russian-born Val Miftakhov, said in an interview in Paris it’s of the same order as a previous state Department of Commerce $350,000 grant to Zeroavia in January 2022 to set up its research facility at Paine Field airport.
The Everett site currently employs 30 people researching electric propulsion and retrofitting a retired Alaska Airlines Q400 turboprop to run on hydrogen.
ZeroAvia, a startup with facilities in the U.K. and California, aims to integrate hydrogen fuel cells with electric motors to power zero-emission aircraft.
Youcef Abdelli, ZeroAvia’s Chief Technical Officer for Propulsion who heads the Everett site, said in Paris he plans to hire rapidly and to have between 80 and 100 employees in Everett by year end and 150 by the middle of next year.
Although aerospace companies generally are having a hard time hiring talent, Abdelli said others “don’t have the same passion, the same sense of mission and purpose” that ZeroAvia offers and he’s confident he’ll attract the engineers and technicians he needs.
Miftakhov described Everett as “a hugely important location for us” because of the availability of aerospace and electrical engineers in the region and the hub of aerospace industry peers in the state also pushing towards sustainable flight.
In a statement, Miftakhov added that the state funding “enables us to push forward quickly on our targets for commercial flight of up to 20-seat aircraft by 2025, and up to 80-seat aircraft by 2027.”
ZeroAvia’s planned zero-carbon-emitting propulsion system is in the early developmental stage.
In 2020, ZeroAvia flew an 8-minute hydrogen-powered flight of a six-seat Piper airplane. The U.K. government that year gave the company a $16 million grant to develop a 19-seat hydrogen powered aircraft capable of a 350-mile flight.
The Piper completed more than 30 flights. But in a setback, the plane crashed in 2021 when the switching software between the backup battery system and the hydrogen fuel system caused the power controllers to lock up.
In January this year, ZeroAvia flew in the U.K a 10-minute hydrogen-powered flight of a 19-seat Dornier 228. That aircraft has completed 8 flights since then.
In May, Alaska Airlines donated the Q400 regional turboprop, also known as the De Havilland Canada Dash 8 aircraft, to be retrofitted with ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric propulsion system.
Zeroavia aims to certify its propulsion system and then retrofit it and certify it to fly passengers on a variety of existing small aircraft, starting by 2025 with a Grand Caravan that seats up to 13 people.
The retrofit of the Alaska Airlines Dash 800 will be the biggest step up. The Doriner flying now requires 600 kW power system. The Dash 800 will require about 3 MW of power.
Another startup, Universal Hydrogen, is chasing the same goal of hydrogen-powered flight. In March, it flew for 15 minutes at Moses Lake a DHC Dash 8 converted to hydrogen power.
Inslee is scheduled to lead a panel discussion at the Air Show Tuesday on how to build up the infrastructure to support sustainable aviation fuel and hydrogen power. The panel includes Boieng’s Vice President of Environmental Sustainability, Sheila Remes.
In an interview before he left for France, Inslee said he had two missions in Paris: “to continue our leadership internationally in the development of sustainable aviation” and to “press the flesh and talk to potential investors in the state of Washington.”