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Sandia and Boeing Collaborate on Aircraft Fuel Cell Application

Sandia National Laboratories and Boeing are collaborating on a project to look at the feasibility of using a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to provide backup power in aircraft.

Commercial and military aircraft use a variety of techniques to provide backup electrical power to critical subsystems during emergency scenarios. Depending on the aircraft, these may include dedicated battery power, in-flight operation of the auxiliary power unit, a ram air turbine, or other technologies.

The project is a new task under an umbrella cooperative research and development agreement signed between the two organizations in 2002. The project focuses on the use of a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell for backup power.

Sandia is leading investigations looking at electrical and environmental requirements, storage issues, and efficiency.

Fuel cell technology represents a straightforward and innovative approach to gaining experience with alternative energy sources for airplane electrical power. A significant part of our focus at Boeing Commercial Airplanes is looking at environmentally progressive technologies that can further reduce dependencies on oil-driven power sources. Our collaborative work with Sandia on this application is a step forward in that regard

—Joe Breit, project manager and an associate technical fellow at the Boeing Systems Concept Center

Also on the fuel-cell front, Boeing researchers and industry partners throughout Europe plan to conduct experimental flight tests this year of a manned airplane powered only by a 20 kW fuel cell and a lithium-ion battery pack. (Earlier post.)

The systems integration phase of the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane research project, under way since 2003 at Boeing Research and Technology-Europe (BR&TE), was completed recently. Thorough systems integration testing is now under way in preparation for upcoming ground and flight testing.

The Boeing demonstrator uses a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which is coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell provides all power for the cruise phase of flight. During takeoff and climb, the flight segment that requires the most power, the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries.



SOFCs could run off of jet fuel with very little processing. There is a project to just that for APUs on jets.

You have to keep them running on minimal power to limit thermal cycling, but commercial jet aircraft are kept operating anyway to speed up payback.

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