Boeing to Build All-Electric Fuel Cell Plane

As a first step toward replacing gas turbine auxiliary power units on large aircraft, Boeing Commercial Airplanes will develop a plane that is powered by a fuel cell, as part of a study to evaluate environmentally friendly fuel cell technology.

SEATTLE, Washington, US, 2002-01-07 [SolarAccess.com] It is working with Boeing’s new research centre in Madrid, Spain, to modify a small, single-engine airplane by replacing its engine with fuel cells and an electric motor that will turn a conventional propeller. “This is the first of many advanced technology projects focusing on the protection of the environment to be developed in Madrid,” explains centre director Miguel Hernan. Fuel cells and electric motors are not expected to replace jet engines on commercial transports, but they could replace the gas turbine auxiliary power units which typically are located in the rear fuselage with exhaust ports through the tail. The units to power generators and compressors to produce electricity and air for planes while on the ground, and for backup use in flight. Fuel cells are cleaner and quieter than auxiliary power units, and have fewer moving parts and can generate more than twice as much electricity with the same amount of fuel. “Our ultimate goal is to replace the auxiliary power unit,” says Dave Daggett of Boeing’s environmental performance strategy group. “But first, we’re going to learn more about fuel cells by powering a small airplane and, as the technology matures, use fuel cells to power an aircraft electrical system, such as the in-flight entertainment system.” Most of the work on the electric airplane will be done in Europe. Boeing Madrid will design and integrate the experimental airplane’s control system. NASA, fuel cell manufacturers, the automotive industry and several European universities are supporting the project. Test flights are scheduled to begin in early 2004.

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