Boeing researchers plan to conduct tests this year on a single-seat airplane powered only by a fuel cell and batteries.
The systems integration phase of the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane research project, under way since 2003 at Boeing Research and Technology-Europe (BR&TE), recently was completed. Thorough systems integration testing is now underway in preparation for upcoming ground and flight testing in Spain.
A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts hydrogen directly into electricity and heat without combustion. Fuel cells are emission-free and quieter than hydrocarbon fuel-powered engines, which means they save fuel and are better for the environment.
The Boeing demonstrator uses a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which is coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell provides all power for the cruise phase of flight. During takeoff and climb, the flight segment that requires the most power, the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries.
The demonstrator aircraft is a Dimona motor glider, built by Diamond Aircraft Industries, which also performed major structural modifications to the aircraft. With a wing span of 53.5 feet, the airplane will be able to cruise at approximately 62 mph using fuel cell-provided power.
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