Boeing Completes Successful Flight Powered By Fuel Cells

July 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

It seems that every airplane company is clambering for the next ‘green’ quick-fix but Boeing is looking far into the future and trying to develop sustainable technology that is environmentally friendly too. A recent announcement by the company revealed that they had become the first company in aviation history to see an manned aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells take to the sky successfully.

The massive aeronautical milestone was the result of work conducted by a team at Boeing Research & Technology Europe (BR&TE), which is situated in Madrid. The team worked in conjunction with industry partners from countries as far a field as France, Germany, The United Kingdom, Austria, Spain and the U.S. According to Francisco Escarti, managing director of BR&TE, “Boeing is actively working to develop new fuel cell technology for environmentally progressive aerospace products.” The result of all their hard work over the past five years is the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project, which successfully demonstrates the technology and gives a very tangible example of leaps in environmental performance that can be explored in the future. The use of a hydrogen fuel cell is a massive leap as far as environmental concerns goes, since the device – which converts hydrogen directly into electricity and heat – emits only heat and water as byproduct of this process. This is in stark contrast to current technologies which release tons of carbon dioxide and other harmful products into the atmosphere on a daily basis.

The aircraft used for the demonstration was a two-seat Dimona motor-glider built by Diamond Aircraft Industries from Austria. The aircraft was modified to incorporate a Proto Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, which was combined with a lithium-ion battery to create a hybrid system that could be used to power the plane’s electric motor and so turn the aircraft’s propeller. The test aircraft has already performed three test flights, during which it climbed to an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level using the hybrid fuel system. On reaching its optimum cruise altitude, the batteries were disconnected and the aircraft flew at 100 km/h for 20 minutes, guided solely by the power of the fuel cells. While the research is still being further refined, one thing is sure – this technology could prove to be one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly technologies currently under development. The technology is certainly “one small step for man – one giant leap for mankind”.

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