Brussels, 14 May 2003
Boeing, the US aerospace giant, is to build the world's first hydrogen powered aeroplane for manned flight, and has selected a UK company, Intelligent Energy, to develop the fuel cells for the aircraft.
Once airborne, the plane will rely solely on two 25 kilowatt hydrogen fuels cells powering propeller motors, ensuring that the only by-products from the engines are heat and water. On the ground, the plane will use battery power to achieve the required speed for take off.
Dr Harry Bradbury, CEO of Intelligent Energy, said: 'Fuel cells show considerable potential for power delivery in many applications. None more graphically demonstrate this potential than manned flight in its centenary year.'
The first manned flight of the fuel cell aircraft is planned to take place in December 2003, the month marking the centenary of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers on 17 December 1903.
Using current technology, fuel cells could only conceivably be used to power light aircraft, and as Intelligent Energy's Judith Agar explains, '[I]t's essentially a modified glider, so it could glide back to the ground if the propulsion fails.'
The main technological obstacle to larger hydrogen powered planes is not the efficiency of the fuel cells themselves, but the problem of how to store the amount of hydrogen necessary to propel such an aircraft.
Aside from the manned plane project, however, Boeing also intends to introduce fuel cells on its commercial airliners to provide power for lighting, heating and entertainment, replacing existing battery powered systems which are recharged using the planes' fossil fuel driven engines.
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