Swiss aircraft electric propulsion pioneer H55 S.A. has commenced construction on its North American headquarters near the Saint-Hubert Airport in Longueuil, Que. through its subsidiary H55 Canada Inc.
Production of the company’s electric propulsion system (EPS) at the facility, which will be semi-automated, is to begin in 2024.
“Having those three customers on the Canadian side obviously influenced us to establish operations. Second, there's not many major aerospace hubs on the planet . . . so being at the heart of an aerospace hub is obviously quite important as well, because it gives you access to a series of supply chain partners, experts (and) manpower, with a lot of experience working in aerospace at different levels,” Martin Larose, H55’s CEO, told Sustainable Biz Canada.
“On an engineering development level, there's many aerospace programs and universities around Montreal. A third reason, which is well known, is the support of local governments.”
H55’s electric propulsion and battery systems are used in a wide variety of applications. The company was established in 2017 as a spinoff of the Solar Impulse project, the first solar-powered electric airplane to fly around the world. The Canadian subsidiary was established in March.
H55 Canada's future HQ
Construction of the approximately 13,000-square-foot building itself will take place in Q2 2024, with production starting in the beginning of Q3 or Q4.
“We're looking to triple this within the next few years, including a hangar for aircraft modification, which we usually participate in with our customers,” Larose said. “When we do the integration of our EPS system within the aircraft, we'd like to be hands-on and be close to this integration process.”
H55 previously received a repayable $10-million loan from Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions for its expansion. The company is also actively engaged in discussions to formalize support from the Quebec government.
A Canadian, Larose was appointed H55's CEO in February.
He explained H55 is planning to scale its Montreal production to a half-million battery modules per year within five years. Each module contains nine to 12 battery cells.
“We already produce these battery packs in Switzerland,” Larose explained, “and what we're looking to do in Montreal, for now, as a first step, is pretty much a copy of what we have in terms of production capacity in Switzerland.”
In that same five-year period, the company is looking to employ up to 200 people at the facility.
H55’s past and future
The company has been active in Canada since 2021 when it partnered with Richmond, B.C.-based Harbour Air – North America’s largest seaplane operator – to produce highly efficient battery packs for the first electric Beaver commuter airplane.
In 2022, H55 was selected by Longueuil, Que.-based aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada to provide battery systems for its regional hybrid-electric flight demonstrator.
H55 is also designing and manufacturing the aircraft battery system to support Montreal-based CAE Inc.’s effort to convert its Piper Archer training fleet, and to make that fleet commercially viable for customers.
“We are looking to expand our customer base within Canada and within the U.S. What we want Montreal to become is our North American production (and) development centre as well,” Larose said. “So it's not just producing batteries, it's developing new solutions, our research and development capacity on site, aircraft modification capacity on site, which will serve the North American market."
In the medium-term, he said H55 is working on a hybrid application involving both a turbo engine as well as an electric motor and batteries. H55’s tests so far indicate the hybrid approach is capable of removing up to a third of the greenhouse gas emissions and increasing efficiency by 30 per cent.
“Decarbonization of the aerospace business will happen on a step-by-step basis. We're starting with electrifying small aircraft and the target application in the short term for this small aircraft is flight schools, where the flight schools will typically fly for an hour,” Larose said.
“That's a perfect application for electrification based on energy density that exists.”