Airbus is giving the first public showing today of its fuel cell development programme on-board an A320 research aircraft.

Fuel cells are one of the most promising ‘step change’ technologies in aviation and this research project is part of Airbus’ efforts towards eco-efficiency. The target by 2020 is to have cut CO2 emissions by 50%; NOx emissions by 80%; fuel consumption by 50%; and external noise by 50%.

Airbus’ Hamburg-based senior manager engineering, auxiliary power systems, Hans-Jürgen Heinrich, said that the system was now approaching 50% efficiency, with the theoretical maximum at around 80%.

“Our eventual target is to be able to replace an aircraft’s APU system with a fuel cell – although I can’t put a target date on this yet.” 

The Airbus/DLR/Michelin fuel cell system was first flight tested in February this year - and for the first time on a civil aircraft.  The cell produced sufficient electrical power to drive the aircraft’s back-up hydraulic and electrical power systems, generating up to 20kW of electrical power and creating no waste products other than 10 litres of water that’s pure enough to drink.  The system uses only compressed oxygen and hydrogen to create the power, although Heinrich says that it’s intended to use oxygen from the air in further advanced versions of the cell. 

Before flying to Berlin yesterday the demonstrator successfully performed another major test, bringing the total flight hours up to around six. During the flight over a dedicated test area in France, a further-improved fuel cell system (which occupies no more than one square metre of space in the rear baggage hold of the A320) provided power for the aircraft’s electric ‘blue circuit’ hydraulic pump, which then successfully moved the aircraft’s ailerons, rudder and elevator, along with other flight control and emergency cockpit systems.

The A320 fuel cell demonstrator will be part of the Airbus static display at the ILA until Thursday.

*A fuel cell is a device, which transforms the energy contained in hydrogen and oxygen into electricity through ‘cold’ combustion. The exhaust products are pure water and heat. Fuel cells produce electricity in a cleaner, more efficient way than combustion engines. In addition, the by-product - water - can be used for the aircraft’s water and waste system, which saves weight and therefore further reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

The fuel cell system developed by Airbus and Michelin was tested on the A320 owned by 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. 

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Source: Flight Daily News