Universal Hydrogen liquidates after running out of cash

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One of the leading horses in the race to pioneer hydrogen powered flight, Universal Hydrogen has shut its doors after failing to secure further funding from investors. 

The California-based company had raised between $80-100m from investors including American Airlines Ventures, Jet Blue Ventures and Toyota Ventures.  It also flew a 40-passenger regional airliner, nicknamed Lightning McClean, partly powered by hydrogen fuel cell propulsion in March 2023.  The flight marked the beginning of a two-year flight test campaign after which Universal planned to enter ATR 72 regional aircraft converted to run on hydrogen into commercial service.

Universal Hydrogen made investors aware of the company’s closure in a letter to shareholders issued on June 27th.

According to The Seattle Times, Universal Hydrogen CEO Mark Cousin revealed that the startup was unable to secure any more funding from outside investors. “We were unable to secure sufficient equity or debt financing to continue operations and similarly were unable to secure an actionable offer for a sale of the business or similar strategic exit transaction,” he said.

At the time of closing Universal had an order book of about  250 aircraft conversions from more than 15 customers, amounting to over $1bn in conversions backlog and over $2bn in fuel services over the first 10 years of operation.

Founded in 2020, aside from the Lightning McClean flight, Universal also accomplished a number of achievements. In February 2024, it demonstrated operation of its hydrogen feeding infrastructure. The AmpCart H2 is designed to be a near-term solution to the shortage of charging infrastructure for electric ground support equipment at airports.

In the same month it also ran what it called the “largest ever” liquid hydrogen fuel cell powertrain test. According to Universal, it powered the megawatt-class fuel cell powertrain using its proprietary liquid hydrogen module to supply the fuel. The liquid hydrogen powered the firm’s iron bird ground test rig for over 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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