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EU Project Developing Fuel-Cell Powered Inter-City Aircraft

Jihlavan Airplanes Rapid 200. Jihlavan is one of the project partners.

A European research project, led by Turin Polytechnic University, is designing a fuel-cell powered, manned inter-city aircraft.

The Environmentally Friendly Inter-City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells (ENFICA-FC) project will receive €2.9 million (US$3.9 million) in funding from the European Union as part of the aeronautics and space priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

The fuel cell system will be installed in selected aircraft, which will be flight and performance tested as a proof-of-concept for future applicability in other inter-city aircraft. The results of the project will be presented at both on-ground and in-flight public events at the end of the three-year research project.

Boeing and industry partners in Europe are also developing a light aircraft powered only by a 20 kW fuel cell and a lithium-ion battery pack. The Boeing team expects to begin its flight testing this year. (Earlier post.)

Hydrogen and fuel cell power technologies have now reached the point where they can be exploited to initiate a new era of propulsion systems for light aircraft and small commuter aircraft.

—Romeo Giulio, Turin Polytechnic University and project coordinator.

The project will initially use a certified two-seat aircraft. The team will use an Intelligent Energy fuel cell system combined with high-efficiency brushless electric motors and an optimized propeller design. The goal is a one-hour flight to validate the performance of an all-electric system.

Among the advantages of deploying hydrogen fuel cell technology in light aircraft would be low noise and low emissions—features which are particularly important for commuter airplanes, which usually take off and land in urban areas.

The possibility to take off and land without contravening the noise abatement regulations set for small airfields, in urban areas and near population centers, will allow the use of airfields late at night, when noise regulations are the most stringent.

Partners in the project include: Politecnico di Torino; METEC; Israel Aircraft Industries; Intelligent Energy; Brno University of Technology; Evektor; Jihlavan Airplane; Air Products; and Université Libre de Bruxelles.




Any plans on using thin film solar cells on the wings? Looks like a natural, considering the expanse of area available.


And biofuels are bad for aviation because????


Just curious, how well do the characteristics of an electric motor lend themselves to aviation?

Robert Schwartz

There must be a point to this exercise.


I would say the good points about this are obvious from the article. Noise and emissions (if you generate your hydrogen using clean energy sources). Biofuels may be carbon neurtral but will still generate other noxious fumes - and be noisy.


The reliability better be there, for obvious reasons. Single engine planes like that use VERY reliable engines. They may not be state of the art designs, but they are proven reliable over many hours of operation.


I would think that this would have big reliability advantages... not many moving parts.


No way!!! Fuel cells have no where near a power to weight ratio that engines have, add on the weight of the motor and hydrogen storage tanks and you have a flying brick! At least they arn't stupid enough to try to make a fuel cell powered helicopter or supersonic airplane.


wasn't the hindemburg kind of proof that hydrogen should never be used in aircraft?


I thought the Hindenburg disaster was caused by the builders using flammable caulking or something.

I agree though, biofuels make more sense for aviation due to the power/weight issues. How about Good year blimps covered in thin film PV?

Sid Hoffman

Hindenburg's problem was the stuff the slathered all over the outside of the canvas to make it airtight, yes, not the H2 inside. At any rate, the lowest power aicraft coming on the market are like the Vans RV-12 (see link) and even though it's a mere 750 pound empty weight, it still needs 100 horsepower to manage itself at full weight with two passengers and luggage. 20kw is just 26 horsepower. I don't understand how it can fly very well (or rapidly) with so little power unless the battery is in a constant depletion mode, supplying additional power above and beyond the fuel cel's output.

David R.

Electric motors have a much greater power-to-weight ratio than ICE. The fuel weight is on par with the fuel weight used by an ICE except its usage is more efficient using a fuel cell, but hydrogen fuel containment weight is higher. Hat's off to Boeing for for doing this!
Notice the usage of Li-ion batteries.


The odd thing is the best way to use h2 in a plane is jet engine fuel. They did a study and an h2 powered jet say 747 size would be able to carry 50 TONS more cargo then a normal jet.. only downside is the tanks are fricken huge and filled with LIQUID H2.


I've seen a picture of a (liquid) hydrogen powered airliner which was done as a "design study".

Its frikin hilarious.

It looks like the Beluga aircraft used for moving under construction aircraft fuselages.

The liquid hydrogen is contained in huge tanks above the passenger compartment.

But that said, if it was economically viable then one day it will be done....



If they can lick the H2 storage problem, I know a lot of people that live underneath fight paths that would love not to have a constant rain of carbon coming down on them.


Might work if you lengthen the wings to the size of a dual glider and lighten frame as well.. Good safety too if propulsion failure.. just glide down to the nearest flat spot. No flying brick here.



Well, as much as I rather see $3.9M research spent on reducing the size and temperature(or containment) of SOFCs; I think this is great. The greatest value of innovations such as these; is that it starts conversations and inspires would be inventors to come up with unique and sometimes better ideas/inventions. Thank you, GCC!


Anyone see mythbuster about the Hindenburg? They sort of proved with videotaped models that it was the hydrogen not the skin of the hindenburg that powered the fire. Hydrogen as a gas it burns very dangerously, as a liquid its extremely explosive, gasoline could not hold a candle to it.

Rafael Seidl

I've argued before that light aviation may be a niche in which hydrogen (specifically, LH2) may make sense, for the reasons wintermane articulated above. However, I was thinking of BWB designs for low-altitude short-hop (<500km) commercial passenger and light cargo service. If quiet fuel cells are used to get around night flight restrictions, it may be necessary to operate some type of take-off assist device (e.g. electric winch as used for gliders) to minimize the size and cost of the fuel cell stack.

For recreational aircraft with 4 or fewer seats, I'd recommend a modern four-stroke turbodiesel engine running on ULSD or equivalent (cp. Diamond Aircraft company). This is quite efficient and avoids lead emissions from expensive AVGAS. A diesel engine is also far cheaper to won an d operate than a fuel cell, reliability is proven and noise levels are acceptable.

There are a number of substitutes for petrodiesel and, emissions can be minimized if regulators so require. In any case, they are dwarfed by those from commercial vehicles on the roads. Light aircraft do not fly at stratospheric altitudes where NOx emissions are particularly harmful.


Instead of projecting short range air transport they should reorganize the rail way system. Modern electric powered high speed trains are an alternative to air transport.
Anyway, the most desicive step to reduce fuel consumption and thus air pollution would be reducing speed.

It´s contrary to the spirit of air transport and human habitus, isn´t it?


If they're going to use electric power, then this fuel cell idea is ridiculous. They really should use the lithium-air couple instead (as developed by Polyplus etc) - this has cracking energy density.

The theoretical energy density of the lithium-air couple is 11,600 Wh/kg. (An ordinary LiIon rechargeable is around 200 Wh/kg). OK, you can't recharge them normally, but you can replace them quickly so the spent cell can be recycled at the factory for the next run.

Li-Air is comparable to fossil fuel in energy density....

Li-Air - 11,600 Wh/kg (electric motor efficiency 95%+)
Diesel - 12,800 Wh/kg (engine efficiency 30-40%)

It would be no problem whatsoever to get similar flight range with lithium-air compared to conventional fuel.


What it realy means is the companies nvolved who know the fiture course of fuel cell dev out many gens... expect this to make sense soonish.

That means they expect a LIGHT AND COMPACT fuel cell to power a plane soonish.. and are testing the concept now with a much weaker heavier cell.

In other words we now have a better idea just how poerful and small fuelcells are going to get.


Except of surveillance drones, this is BS.


More taxpayers money down the drain so "they" can look like they are doing something about the planetary catastrophe enveloping us - the "scientists" and "engineers" on this project are evidently shameless. Anything to fill their pay packet.

Inter City Aircraft - my God, these people are crooks. There is no other word for it.

Prabodh JOg

Certainly excellent initiative... If it can be applied to passneger planes it will be the best thing for saving the world.

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