Aircraft fuel cell system tested in flight

Airbus has successfully tested a fuel cell system to power an aircraft's back-up hydraulic and electric power systems while in flight

The test conducted in February supports continuing research to evaluate the potential use and environmental benefits of fuel cell technology and zero emissions power generation in civil aviation.

During the test, the hydrogen and oxygen based fuel cell system generated up to 20kW of electrical power, which was used for the aircraft's electric motor pump and the back-up hydraulic circuit and to operate the ailerons. The system's robustness was confirmed at high gravity loads ('g' loads) during turns and zero gravity aircraft manoeuvres.

During the flight test, the fuel cells produced around ten litres of pure water, which is a 'waste' product of their operation. This water could be used for the aircraft water and waste systems, reducing weight and thereby increasing fuel efficiency.

"Fuel cells offer tremendous potential environmental benefits and operational savings", said Patrick Gavin, Airbus executive vice president engineering.

The fuel cell system developed by Airbus and Michelin was tested on the A320 test aircraft owned by the DLR, the German Aerospace Centre. Airbus has been working on fuel cell technology in cooperation with Michelin, Liebherr Aerospace and DLR since the end of 2005.

The next stage for the partners will be to develop ways of using fuel cell technology for replacing other aircraft systems such as the emergency power systems and the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). This would significantly reduce the noise and emission levels in and around airports.

Image: The Airbus A320

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