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ENFICA-FC Fuel Cell Inter-City Aircraft Ready for Flight Testing

200fc
The Rapid 200-FC in an aircraft braking test. Click to enlarge.

The Environmentally Friendly Inter-City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells (ENFICA-FC) project, led by Turin Polytechnic University, is ready for flight-testing its fuel-cell powered, manned inter-city aircraft. (Earlier post.)

The first high speed taxiing tests were successfully carried out on the Rapid 200-FC aircraft between 10 to 18 December of last year. The next step for the European team, coordinated by Professor Giulio Romeo of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, will involve obtaining the flight permit and then conducting the first test flight.

…the objective is that of building an aeroplane that works on hydrogen, taking advantage of the fuel cell technology at present available to create a demonstrator aircraft that is able to connect cities through flights while totally eliminating the environmental impact. The work plan financed by the EC is divided into two stages: modification of a light-weight two-seater airplane with an electric engine completely supplied by hydrogen; the test flights on this are aimed at identifying the technical advantages and improvements in performance obtained with the new generation electrical energy.

At the same time, more theoretical type studies have been carried out (in collaboration with the Israel Aircraft Industry, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Evektor (CZ) partners). These will not have an immediate practical application in the initial stages because of the present technological limits, but have the aim of using zero emission propellers in the future to equip aircraft for 20-30 passengers in the regional and intercity sector.

—Professor Giulio Romeo

The current Rapid 200-FC aircraft has an entirely electric 40 kW propeller. Power is supplied to the propeller through 20 kW hydrogen fuel cells; gaseous hydrogen is stored at 350 bar onboard. The airplane also has a second source of energy that consists of a set of 20 kW lithium polymer batteries which are able to guarantee alternative or supplementary power during take off and initial climbing.

The PEM fuel cell delivers 100-110 Amps of electrical current at 200-240 V, plus air and water vapor emitted at environmental temperature.

The aircraft (the final lay-out of which was achieved with the technical assistance of the Italian Skyleader importer T&T Ultralight) has a wing span of about 10 meters. With the current systems, the airplane has autonomy of 1 hour and can reach a cruising speed of 150-180 km/h (93-112 mph), using hydrogen alone.

The entire electric and energy system underwent laboratory testing on a bench model in the first six months of 2009, in collaboration with the Department of Electrical Systems and Automation at the University of Pisa. The starting up, functioning under power and taxiing tests of the aircraft were carried out along the 1,400 meter runway at the Reggio Emilia airport over the last few weeks.

The aircraft and the electric and energy system were developed according to a design by Professor Romeo, and tuned by the ENFICA-FC team, which includes:

  • Politecnico di Torino (IT) (Design of the modified aircraft and experimental test flights)
  • Skyleader (CZ) (manufacturer of the aircraft)
  • Intelligent Energy (UK) (designer and manufacturer of the hydrogen fuel cells)
  • APL (UK) (in charge of the tanks and supply of the high pressure hydrogen)
  • Mavel Elettronica (IT) (designer and manufacturer of the power electronics)
  • University of Pisa (IT) (laboratory tests on the electric system)

Mavel designed the power electronics system to guarantee the supply of the 40 kW of power necessary for takeoff while meeting the requirement of limiting weight (less than 15 kg) and size so that it could be installed on the airplane.

The ENFICA-FC project was chosen by the aeronautical and space planning committee from among hundreds of other programs presented. The overall cost of the project is €4.5 million (US$6.6 million) of which €2.9 million (US$4.2 million) is financed with funds allocated by the European Commission.

The project, which began in 2006, foresees finishing positively with the final test flights in February and March; flight testing will be based at the Reggio Emilio airport.

Comments

HarveyD

As fuel cells, batteries, Hydrogen storage tanks and control systems etc get to be more efficient (more power to props per Kg) much larger short range electrified aircraft will become a reality. Ultra light weight airframe etc could also help to reduce AC weight to make room for higher payload. Roll to roll printed ultra thin ultra light solar cells over the wings and body could help to extend daylight hours range.

SJC

I like the idea of putting thin film PV on the wings. If the aircraft sits outside between flights, they could store quite a bit of energy in the batteries.

Henry Gibson

Where is the hydrogen mined or does it come out of the wells as liquid. One square meter of very expensive solar cells can give 200 watts at most or one amp out of 100. Light from the sun is very weak otherwise people would fry in sunlight. For the range this aircraft has, just beam up radar waves from power from windmills. The Canadians flew a large model aircraft on radar as a test. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

How does the total system weight compare to just using the lightest weight batteries. Diesel engines get as good as efficiency as fuel cells and more if the energy cost of producing hydrogen from any source is considered. Traveling short distances is more econommical on the ground. See Skytran for floating a centimeter or so off the track with dynamic magnetic repulsion. ..HG..

HarveyD

SJC:

And you could get even more sun light while flying (above the clouds) during day light hours. Even small airplanes have rather large wing & body areas. Using 20 to 40 sq. meters, you may get as much as 4 Kw/h to 8 Kw/h in bright sun shine. This may not be enough to keep an e-plane at cruising speed but it could supply a fair percentage of the e-power required. More efficient thin sun cells and larger wings could do a lot better. Flying westward in summer time could be a lot of fun.

SJC

It seems like something that can be done. Even if you produce only 2 kW, you produce it for 5 hours per day will the plane sits there. You would not need a plug where you tie the plane down. After a week of siting in the sun, you have fully charged batteries. If the fuel cell fails, you have enough reserve to make a safe landing.

Mannstein

"For the range this aircraft has, just beam up radar waves from power from windmills. The Canadians flew a large model aircraft on radar as a test. ..HG.."

Just don't look into the radar beam unless you want instant cataracts.

tjmc

Great to see progress here as most GA aircraft still use Lycoming engine dinosaurs designed 50 years ago.

Legally, the standard reserve required for aircraft is 30 minutes under visual flight rules or 45 minutes for night or instrument (IFR) rules.

So you'd hope the quoted "autonomy of 1 hour" is in addition to the reserve because you won't get very far in 15-30 mins!

SJC

I could see a hybrid plane, you use motor and engine on take off and motor for cruising and landing. The engine/alternator would be used much like a range extended hybrid.

Engineer-Poet

What tjmc said.  This is essentially a toy airplane due to the endurance limits.

SJC

I think that he was talking about reserves and not range.

wintermane2000

Um its a test system and had to all fit in a certain sized box that was also only 25 kg. Since its niether an advanced h2 tank nor an advanced fuel cell design its amazing what it can manage.

HarveyD

A glider type very light craft equipped with future higher performance fuel cell or future higher performance (10x) batteries or ESSUs + ultra thin light weight solar panels may be able to fly as long as the sun is shining. On a summertime East-West trip this toy may be able to fly from Atlanta to LA non-stop in about 18 hours.

Stan Peterson

One of the benefits of the mostly ill thought out Bio-fuels effort, is that the Biofuels can never scale to replace conventional petroleum demnd. It could supply the total demand for marine and aviation fuels however, in its entirety, provided that petroelum demand decreases almost to nill, by The Electrification of Ground Transport, and that could be eventually achieved, sometime in thr next three hundred years or so.

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