A Pullman aerospace business will have a chance to show off its product at the largest aerospace event in the world today.

Thanks to a voucher awarded by the Washington Department of Commerce, Protium Innovations will attend the Paris Air Show. The event sees more than 100,000 visitors and thousands of exhibitors from 48 countries.

“For us, it’s a great opportunity,” Elijah Shoemake said.

Shoemake, Ian Richardson and Patrick Adam started Protium Innovations in 2015 to develop liquid hydrogen fuel tanks for unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.

Shoema48ke said the fuel tanks makes aircraft lighter, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly than batteries or gas motors.

It all stems from the trio’s research while studying in the Washington State University Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research.

There, they learned how to develop aircraft to run on liquid hydrogen. Along the way, they ran into a problem with the conventional metal liquid hydrogen storage tank.

“It was quite heavy for the amount of fuel you can put in it,” Shoemake said.

So, with the help of a 3D printer, they built a different fuel tank that is lighter while still heating up the hydrogen to create electricity to power the aircraft.

At the Paris Air Show, the Protium team will try to network with other professionals and get a global perspective on everything new happening in their industry. Their main focus, Shoemake said, is building partnerships to help them scale up to larger aircraft.

Shoemake said Protium Innovations is able to grow their business in a small rural town like Pullman, miles away from any major aerospace hub, primarily because of WSU.

He said hydrogen energy is a small, highly specialized field where research on the subject is not found in many places.

Pullman is one of those places.

“I don’t think we would have been able to do what we’re doing without the university,” he said.

Shoemake said hydrogen is an effective fuel system for aircraft because it is cleaner and requires less maintenance than gas or batteries.

He said gas engines require regular tuneups and overhauls and many manufacturers will simply throw out faulty engines and replace them, rather than fix them.

He said it does not make sense for a half-billion dollar drone with expensive cameras and sensors to be grounded because the manufacturer has to rip the gas engine out of it.

Because hydrogen can generate electricity, it gives aircraft the same advantages of, say, an electric.

Shoemake said it is cleaner, lighter, requires less maintenance and, in the case of drones, makes the machines easier to control. Flyers are able to throttle down much more quickly, for example.

They hope to scale up their fuel tank to support larger drones that can be used for commercial or military applications.

For example, Shoemake cited drones that are used to shoot photos of wildfires as one possible application.

Another application that interests Protium Innovations is the rising interest among companies like Uber to build air taxis.


Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

Recommended for you