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Fuel cells

Electricity through “cold” combustion

Airbus and its partners are exploring the use of fuel cells to power aircraft systems.

A fuel cell is a device that transforms chemical energy from a fuel – such as hydrogen – into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent.  By applying such a “cold” combustion process, the only waste is water, heat and oxygen-depleted air – which would contribute to reductions in emissions and noise when applied aboard an airliner.

Water produced from this process also can be used by the aircraft’s water and waste systems, reducing the amount of water an aircraft would need on board. This would contribute to reduced weight, which could further decrease fuel consumption and emissions.

Airbus has partnered with the DLR German Aerospace Centre and Parker Aerospace to study usage of a “Multifunctional Fuel Cell” (MFFC) system on aircraft to replace today’s gas turbine-based auxiliary power units. The system could provide an estimated 100 kW of electricity, acting as an independent source capable of providing power throughout an aircraft.

Putting fuel cells to the test

Positioning of the Multifunctional Fuel Cell is envisioned in the airliner’s cargo hold, while the system’s liquid hydrogen tank, heat exchangers and fans are to be located in the tail cone section.  Testing of the technology could occur in the middle of the decade on an A320.  

In 2008, Airbus, DLR and Michelin performed flight evaluations of a fuel cell emergency power system on a testbed A320.  The earlier fuel cell was installed on a cargo pallet and produced some 25 kW of electrical power – operating the electric motor pump for the aircraft’s back-up hydraulic circuit, and controlling the spoilers, ailerons and elevator actuator.

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Did you know?

"We surveyed over 10,000 people around the world who will be passengers in 2050 to ask what they want from the aviation industry in the future.

Their message was clear – we need to help as many people as possible share in the benefits that air transport brings, but we need to achieve this while looking after the environment."

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