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Alternative energies

Cleaner electricity through fuel cells

A fuel cell is a device that transforms the energy of hydrogen into electricity by combining the hydrogen with oxygen in a “cold” combustion. The only exhaust products are water, heat and oxygen-depleted air.

Fuel cells produce electricity in a cleaner, more efficient way than combustion engines. In addition, the water by-product can be used for the aircraft’s water and waste system, which saves weight and therefore reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

This technology is still in its early stages and it will take some time before a commercial aircraft can fly powered by fuel cells. However, key steps forward are being made regularly.

Collaborative processes

Airbus engineers are looking at fuel cells for an airliner’s cabin and systems, to power such elements as the air conditioning or to start the engine.

Together with its research partners, Airbus successfully performed the first test flight on a civil transport aircraft in 2008, where a fuel cell system provided power for the aircraft’s back-up systems. In June 2011, Airbus partnered with Parker Aerospace to make further progress in using fuel cells to power the aircraft system. 

Airbus also has joined with the DLR German aerospace centre, particularly on topics concerning the use of fuel cell for emission-free ground operations. In order to gain more details on the potential of fuel cell technology as supply for electric power in aircraft ground operation, a DLR-designed technology demonstrator was installed in its A320 test aircraft in July 2011. 

Learn more in the “Future by Airbus” section.

Pushing the boundaries with “eGenius” technology

Airbus is a primary sponsor of the electronically-propelled two-seat eGenius aircraft, which pushes the limits of electronic flight.

Airbus also is looking at emission-free electric propulsion, and is supporting basic research activities for electric aircraft concepts. The “eGenius” technology demonstrator, an electrically-propelled two-seater aircraft designed by the University of Stuttgart, Germany’s Institute of Aircraft Design was presented for the first time at the international Aero-Expo in Friedrichshafen, Germany, in 2011. Six weeks later, “eGenius” performed its maiden flight. 

This aircraft features an electric propulsion system which pushes the limits of electric flight to a power level of 60kW. In the following flight test campaign, the flight envelope will be enlarged continuously by verifying the electric propulsion’s flight performance and reliability. 

Airbus, as main sponsor of the “eGenius” project, is examining the long-term potential of electricity as alternative major onboard energy source. The data collected from the practical operation with the “eGenius” aircraft will be analysed by Airbus’ Future Projects teams to further develop the technology and better understand its opportunities.

Did you know?

"In the last 40 years, the aviation industry has cut fuel burn and CO2 emissions by70%, NOx emissions by 90% and noise by 75%."

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