The aviation industry has recently become a focus for reducing emissions, due to the huge amount of CO2 and other pollutants produced by burning kerosene. Whilst various technologies are being considered to replace kerosene combustion engines, there is a growing consensus that for planes up to regional aircraft size (<100 seats) that hydrogen fuel cells provide the best technical solution. Achieving the necessary power density for flight is a major challenge to the fuel cell industry and one that Intelligent Energy is taking on.
Intelligent Energy is a major partner in the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) funded project, working closely with lead partner GKN Aerospace on the development of fuel cell powertrain suitable for aviation in the H2GEAR project. This £54 million project is the largest ATI project to-date and demonstrates the UK’s commitment, as well as that of the UK’s aviation and fuel cell industry, to developing fuel cell technology for airplanes.
There is also increasing focus on fuel cells from the early-stage Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL)/Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industry which is developing new types of aircraft for short to medium range flights. The limitations of batteries, and focus on zero emissions, means that most eVTOL companies are now looking to fuel cells to meet their power requirements. IE is working with several major eVTOL manufacturers who are looking to utilise the IE-FLIGHT fuel cell system for their programmes.
Why use fuel cells in aviation?
- Energy Density – Hydrogen and fuel cells give better energy density than any battery, even considering efficiency improvements of both technologies FC is expected to be 3-5x better.
- Safety – The aerospace industry view is that the safety of hydrogen is manageable.
- Operational – Hydrogen offers rapid refuelling times which can be accomplished within aircraft turnaround, unlike battery charging which will take at least an order of magnitude longer.
Intelligent Energy is developing the IE-FLIGHT fuel cell modules for general aviation and eVTOL applications.