Boeing’s Development of the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane

Boeing has always strived to be in the forefront of developing aerospace products that will not harm the environment. At the Boeing Research and Technology Center such developments have been made in environmentally progressive technologies, which Boeing hopes to later apply to the field of aviation.

Since 2003 this is exactly what Boeing research and industry partners, situated all over Europe, have done. They have been deeply involved in a particular research project that uses fuel cell technology and has proven to have major environmental and efficiency benefits. The project comes in the form of a Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane, which has been seen as an important step in the right direction.

Boeing’s Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane is an aircraft that is powered only by lightweight batteries and a fuel cell. Boeing has recently been involved in thorough systems integration testing of the Fuel Cell Airplane, which is necessary before any further testing can take place. This year, 2007, Boeing researchers and industry partners will carry out experimental ground and flight tests with the recently completed Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane in Spain. The flight tests of the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane will demonstrate that an aircraft using just fuel cells as a source of power can lift off and maintain a straight level of flight.

The Proton Exchange Membrane (“PEM”) fuel cell and lithium-ion battery hybrid system is an electrochemical mechanism that takes hydrogen and converts it directly into electricity and heat without having to use the process of combustion or burning. The first advantage of fuel cells is that they are clean and release no pollutants into the environment. The second advantage is that, in comparison to hydrocarbon fuel-powered engines, fuel cells are much quieter and they save fuel.

The PEM fuel cell system provides the power to run the electronic motor, which is joined to a conventional propeller while the Demonstrator Airplane is in the cruise phase of the flight. During the Demonstrator Airplane’s takeoff and climb, which uses a lot of energy, the system derives its power from the lightweight lithium-ion batteries. Diamond Aircraft Industries, located in Austria, built the Dimona motor glider and provided all the structural modifications to the Demonstrator Aircraft. The airplane will be able to travel at 62 miles per hour, or 100 kilometers per hour, and will have a wingspan of 53.5 feet, or 16.3 meters.