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Report: Boeing Targeting Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Plane Flight Within 12 Months

A shot of the demonstrator in 2003.

Sunday Times (London). Boeing hopes its light-aircraft prototype powered by a hydrogen fuel cell will make its maiden flight within the next 12 months, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

Boeing began work on the project in 2002. Led by the Boeing Research and Technology Center in Madrid, Spain, the project includes Intelligent Energy (UK), Diamond Aircraft Industries (Austria), the Spanish companies Sener and Aerlyper, and Advanced Technology Products (ATP), from the United States.

Diamond Aircraft of Austria is supplying the demonstrator airplane, based on a certified Katana Xtreme motor-glider (in Europe called the Super Dimona); Intelligent Energy of the United Kingdom is providing the Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell hardware and technical support; Sener will design and build a fuel cell controller unit to be used in research activities; Aerlyper will integrate the electric motor into the airplane and perform airframe modification work; and ATP will supply a UQM motor, batteries, and controllers to complete the electric propulsion system, and perform the flight testing of the airplane.

In addition to the five partners involved, two Spanish universities are also collaborating in this project. The Polytechnic University of Madrid will test a sub-scale version of the fuel cells that will power the demonstrator airplane and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia will work to understand the possible failure modes of this completely new form of airborne electrical power generation.

Dr Jon Moore, director of communications at Intelligent Energy, based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, said technological advances were now making such devices far lighter and cheaper, but aviation remained the biggest challenge.

“The secret lies in making a fuel cell powerful enough to get an aircraft off the ground and to keep it climbing,” he said. “That takes a huge amount of energy and it is a big obstacle.”

Boeing has overcome this by backing up the fuel cell with batteries that provide extra power for take-off and then recharge while the aircraft is cruising.

In July 2005 AeroVironment, a California company, flew an unmanned surveillance plane powered by a fuel cell. (Earlier post.)


allen Z

I don't know aout H2 fuel cells, but the idea of li-ion battery powered motorised glider is intriguing. If you can add photovoltaics, and cruise up in the jet stream (GPS designated paths so that jets do not run you over), you may be able to travel at 200 mph, w/out the need to use fossil energy (except perhaps during production/construction of the vehicle).
___If ultracaps can do a better job, then they should be used too. Also, as photovoltaics get better, range and speed will improve too.

Bike Commuter Dude

Jet stream flight considerations for this particular type of plane:

+Necessity for pressurized cabin (so as not to burst ear drum)
+I would assume that a fuel cell becomes less efficient, as does a non-turbo ICE, in the thin air.
+PV panels would be more efficient due to the high altitude (less atmosphere to block your rays)
+I think the jet stream would rip one of these small aircraft to shreds with turbulance.

I believe that this could be more useful if upscaled for use on a 747-8 and the like. More surface area for PV, already has a pressurized cabin, already designed for jet stream operation, LOTS more real estate for batteries/fuel storage. Does anyone have a clue about the effects of altitude on fuel cell usage?
Also, I think that the weight and size of current hydrogen storage technology will be prohibitive to utility. I forsee solid-based storage overtaking currrent gaseous/liquid storage. You could build the frame of the aircraft with a metallic hydrogen "sponge". You would only need a small expansion tank mounted, and other than that, you are flying your fueltank.


To be butally honest, aircraft are one of the few applcations that are really going to lean on Biomass liquid fuels/XTL type fuels.

Fuel cells will struggle to provide power to mass outputs with the requesit reliability.

In the light aircraft market reliability is everything. Cost comes a close second.

Fuel cells struggle on both counts.


The space shuttle uses fuel cells. They take five up because they need 3 for full power to the ship. They usually land with only 2 working.

Current fuel cells do not like mobile operation. There is a very high failure rate.

Roger Pham

Fuel cell for light aircraft propulsion is a joke. At production number around 1000-2000 units world-wide yearly, no serious mfg will recoup any money developing this technology. The light aircraft built today are still powered by engine technology that predates WWII. The weight of the motor, battery, fuel cell will be way too heavy for LIGHT aircraft.

Fuel cell for jumbo jets is even a bigger joke!!!!!No jumbo jet today can get off the ground using fuel cell and electric motor, or may barely get off the ground if not carrying any cargo.

The best kept secret is liquid H2 (LH2) powering conventional piston engines or turbofan engines. Due to the much lighter weight of the LH2 in comparison to kerosene per BTU heating value, an LH2 powered jet can be designed to weigh half as much on take off carrying the same payload, or can carry twice as much payload for the same gross takeoff weight.

allen Z

Perhaps the ventless turbine blades in combined cycle gas turbines can be applied to turbofans. The vent holes in the blades are for beeding air to create a protective layer of air around turbine blades to prevent them from melting in the hellish conditions of a jet engine's turbine section. Ventless hollow blades will allow low temp steam to pick up energy that would otherwise quickly destroy/deform the blade. The steam will then go to a high temp electrolysis unit, as well as a small steam turbine for electric and/or hydraulic power. The H2 and O2 produced will go towards decreasing emissions, and increasing efficiency/power a few % points.
___Heat may be dissipated via anti-icing system (leading edges of wings, and control surfaces/moving joints), cabin heating (at high/cruise altitudes), fuel antifreezing system (for flights across arctic/during winter), fan stage/turbine bypass of turbofans, and thermoelectric/thermovoltaics.


I remember reading about this research project in the Aviation press when the program started a few years ago.

The point of the project (as reported then) was not for Boeing to develop a fuel-cell-powered light aircraft, but to investigate fuel-cell technology that could be used as an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) on a conventional passenger jet aircraft. It would perhaps be used throughout the entire flight to power hydraulic, de-ice, A/C and electric systems, since it would be more efficient than the turbine engines, leaving them to provide only thrust (except in emergencies).

Today APUs are typically used to power systems while on the ground (if no ground power is available) and for engine start.


It makes perfect sense to me that Boeing would want to test out a fuel cell flying around in a little plane before they spend serious money on a program to put a fuel cell auxilary power unit in a production aircraft like a 777.

I do not know of anyone talking about powering a large aircraft only with fuel cells; it seems that there are plenty of alternitive liquid fuels that could be used in proven turbine engines.

omg omg my currnet events topic and i have no clue whats going on!! crap!

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