Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fuel cell plane in aviation first

Intelligent Energy and Boeing have announced that the first ever manned flight of a fuel cell powered light aircraft has been completed in tests in Spain.

Pictured above: The Boeing fuel cell powered aeroplane on its test flight

Boeing Research & Technology Europe (BR&TE) joined with partners across Europe and the US, including Intelligent Energy - which provided the fuel cell power system itself - to design, build and test the plane. The plane is based on a two-seat Dimona motor-glider frame with a 16.3 metre (53.5 feet) wingspan. It was modified by BR&TE to incorporate a hybrid low emission engine, containing Intelligent Energy’s power dense Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell power system and lithium-ion batteries, to power an electric motor coupled to a conventional propeller.

Three test flights took place in February and March at an airfield near Madrid. Each time, the pilot climbed to an altitude of 1,000 metres(3,300 feet) above sea level using a combination of battery power and power generated by the hydrogen fuel cells, and continued in a straight path at the cruising altitude for 20 minutes at a speed of 100 km per hour (62 miles per hour) on power solely generated by the fuel cells.

Henri Winand, chief executive of Intelligent Energy, said,“This is a new dawn for clean aviation, and the latest project to vindicate our view that hydrogen fuel cells can find applications in a wide variety of sectors. Boeing’s challenge to us was to provide a reliable and compact power system that could be integrated into such a light aircraft, and we delivered on our promise. We’re excited by the results and proud of the hard work of our CTO Philip Mitchell and his team, which helped make this a reality.”

Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity from hydrogen. They can be modified to provide power for many applications including aerospace and defence, as well as being ideal for zero-emissions commuter transport vehicles.

According to Boeing researchers, PEM fuel cell technology could potentially power small manned and unmanned aircrafts. Fuel cells could be applied to secondary power generating systems, such as auxiliary power units for large commercial airplanes. While Boeing does not envisage that fuel cells will provide primary power for large passenger airplanes, the company will continue to investigate their potential, as well as other sustainable alternative fuel and energy sources that improve environmental performance.

“Boeing is actively working to develop new technologies for environmentally progressive aerospace products,” said Francisco Escarti, BR&TE’s managing director. “We are proud of our pioneering work during the past five years on the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project. It is a tangible example of how we are exploring future leaps in environmental performance, as well as a credit to the talents and innovative spirit of our team.”

Source: http://www.intelligent-energy.com/index_article.asp?SecID=8&secondlevel=25&artid=4001%20

Courtesy: Dr S Vasudevan

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