WPI PhD student Januario Da Costa, left, and Andrew Teixeira, assistant professor of chemical engineering

Honeywell, WPI Partner on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Solutions for Aircraft

Collaborative effort explores using hydrogen in drones and passenger aircraft, involves Honeywell engineers, WPI faculty and students
Media Contact
March 22, 2023

A new partnership between Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Honeywell Aerospace is aimed squarely at helping the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint by examining how hydrogen fuel cells can help power the next generation of aircraft. 

This work focuses on hydrogen storage and power generation technology for all forms of air travel, including unmanned aerial vehicles, passenger and cargo travel. Honeywell is supplying hydrogen equipment and technology expertise, and has established a significant presence on WPI’s campus, with lab space in Goddard Hall and offices at Gateway Park.

“The aviation industry has recognized an imperative to de-carbonize, which is extremely challenging in the weight- and volume-constrained environment of an aircraft. Hydrogen, along with sustainable aviation fuels and aircraft electrification, represents a huge opportunity for the aerospace industry to meet the UN’s 2050 climate targets,” said Andrew Teixeira, assistant professor of Chemical Engineering, and project lead on the WPI team. “The collaboration with Honeywell will accelerate the process because the partnership permits WPI researchers to focus on the scientific bottlenecks, while Honeywell provides leading expertise on aerospace productization and certification. The combination of expertise that spans Technology Readiness from pure research all the way to shipping product, all in one location, enhances our ability to move and iterate fast, and make a real difference to the aviation industry.”

The unique talent pool and opportunity for collaboration drove Honeywell’s choice to work with WPI, and we’ve been very pleased with our interactions with WPI faculty, staff and students alike.
  • Phil Robinson
  • Senior director of Zero Emissions Aviation at Honeywell Aerospace

Through this new collaborative, a group of roughly 25 Honeywell team members are working together with WPI experts and students under a multiyear contract to develop hydrogen storage and fuel cell technologies. Honeywell is currently using these technologies for unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Honeywell-WPI team is investigating hydrogen solutions for unmanned aerial vehicles, cargo drones, air taxis and even larger aircraft that could one day power commuter and regional flights without petroleum fuels. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2019, aviation accounted for 2.8% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but this percentage is projected to grow as other industries decarbonize and air travel continues to expand. 

“Honeywell has technology on virtually every commercial flight, from engines and APUs (Auxiliary Power Units, like the one that powered Sully’s landing on the Hudson River) to avionics, environmental control and other aircraft systems. For the past several years we’ve ramped up our exploration of hydrogen solutions — both combustion and fuel cells — as well as other ready-now technologies that help our customers create a more sustainable future,” said Phil Robinson, senior director of Zero Emissions Aviation at Honeywell Aerospace. “The unique talent pool and opportunity for collaboration drove Honeywell’s choice to work with WPI, and we’ve been very pleased with our interactions with WPI faculty, staff and students alike. We’re excited to bring unique clean technologies to our aviation customers, and also help guide WPI research in as-of-yet unexplored areas.”

The collaboration allows WPI students to work elbow-to-elbow with the Honeywell team in common lab space. The agreement funds three PhD students over several years and multiple undergraduate Major Qualifying Projects each year. Principal investigators include Andrew Teixeira and Anthony Dixon in Chemical Engineering, and Ronald Grimm and Shawn Burdette in Chemistry.