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Fraunhofer ISE and DLR Successfully Test Concept On-board Reformer and Fuel Cell APU for Aircraft

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have successfully integrated and operated an autothermal kerosene reformer with a high-temperature solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) designed for auxiliary power generation on-board aircraft.

Aircraft currently obtain their in-flight electric power from generators driven by the engines. An auxiliary gas turbine APU delivers power when the aircraft is on the ground at an airport. Using a fuel-cell APU instead for on-ground and in-flight power would reduce noise, fuel consumption and emissions.

Boeing is investigating the use of a SOFC APU mounted in the tail section. Click to enlarge.

Boeing, which is also investigating a SOFC APU concept and targeting a 2015 deployment, estimates that a 440 kW SOFC APU could reduce the consumption of Jet-A fuel used for power generation by 40% at cruise, and by 75% on the ground.

ISE and DLR worked in cooperation with Liebherr Aerospace, the coordinator of the EU-funded Power Optimized Aircraft project.

Fraunhofer ISE developed the reformer, including heat exchangers and off-gas burners. The DLR constructed the SOFC stack developed at the Research Centre Jülich (FZJ) and integrated it with the reformer into a test stand.

A porous burner combusts a fraction of the fuel gas from the SOFC that is not converted to hydrogen, thereby supplying the heat required to evaporate and pre-heat the reactant flows to the reformer and the cathode air for the SOFC.

Operating together with the SOFC, the reformer system produced synthesis gas with a flow rate of 10 to 45 Nl/min (normal liters/minute). Desulfurized Jet A-1 kerosene was the fuel. Removing sulfur from the kerosene is an important aspect for the future application of such combined reformer fuel-cell systems, and Fraunhofer ISE successfully tested two desulfurization processes as part of the work.



John Baldwin

What is the point of this? How much less CO2 and NOX is produced per passenger mile?


A major point is to cut fuel consumption and air pollution while on the ground in the airport area -- local air quality issues. Also, with fewer moving parts (I am presuming) this system could have long term cost savings due to fewer expensive overhauls and rebuilds.


The Boeing 787 Dreamliner design currently uses engine-driven generators to supply all on-board power requirements and cabin-air pressurization.  If that drain can be removed from the engines and supplied by a more efficient fuel cell instead, the efficiency of the whole aircraft (currently 30% better than the competing Airbus) goes up even more.


I would like to see a similar setup for cars.

Whenever you have "engine accessories" you have to factor in a margin of error for "extreme or unpredictable" scenarios. The fact is, engine load and accessory load are rarely in sync. Allowing a seperate power unit to supply accessory power would improve the overall efficiency of the plane.

If this system improves efficiency by only 2% (which is probable) that would be HUGE! We are probably talking about hundreds of thousands of gallons less fuel used annually assuming it is implemented on a wide scale.


There are moves to take the power steering and A/C off the belt and make them electric motors. Belts are not the most efficient form of power transmission.


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