First Fuel Cell Powered Flight

Up until now aircraft making use of fuel cells have not been powered exclusively by this power source. But that all changed on the September 30, 2008, at the Stuttgart airport where the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) presented their very first exclusively fuel-cell powered aircraft.

The innovative new fuel cell technology was able to power the manned aircraft for all the activities it performed, including take-off and landing. The cell is based on a high-temperature PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) which was used to generate the power needed to keep the electric engine of the Antares DLR-H2 motor glider used for the demonstration operating. The main goal of the project was to test and see what sort of potential this new fuel cell technology has when it comes to applying it in commercial aircraft. While the pilot flight went very well, it seems that the technology will still have to be further developed and tested before it can be fully adapted and used in large commercial aircraft. Small commercial aircraft may have access to the technology much sooner.

There are a lot of advantages to making use of this sort of fuel cell technology. It is environmentally sound and energy efficient, making it cheaper to run for the pilot and better for the environment. The fuel cells could be used to generate all the energy needed during the course of a flight, including the powering of turbines or ancillary aggregates needed for air conditioning on the ground or the powering of the main turbines during flight, which not only ensures that the aircraft stays aloft but also powers the air conditioning and a variety of electrical applications. Developers foresee the fuel cells being used to not only generate electrical power, but also heat and maybe even potable water for use on-board. Another advantage of this new technology is the fact that the cells could help to reduce the possibility of electrical power failures. They will also help to reduce the overall weight of the aircraft, making it cost less to get it off the ground. While the DLR is the leading partner in the project, BASF was responsible for the Celtec®-membrane electrode assemblies (MEA) that the technology is based on. This technology is easily integrated into existing aircraft auxiliary power fuel cells, making it very suitable for the job.