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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

NASA starts developing hydrogen electric plane

Artistic representation created by the team as they imagine will be a commercial aircraft using cryogenic propulsion systems fueled by hydrogen. [Image: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign]

The idea is to use the promising, but not yet fully practical, hydrogen fuel cells .

"Essentially, the program focuses on the development of an all-electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as a method of energy storage," explains Professor Phillip Ansell of the University of Illinois, who will head CHEETA "Center of High Efficiency Cryogenic Electrical Technologies for Aircraft".

The chemical energy of hydrogen will be converted directly into electricity in a series of fuel cells, which will then power high efficiency electric motors. The project aims to develop these high-power engines using superconductors, taking advantage of the cryogenic device that will be needed to keep hydrogen safe inside the tanks.

"It's similar to the way MRI devices work," Ansell said. "However, these electric transmission systems do not yet exist, and the methods for integrating electrically driven propulsion technologies into an aircraft platform have yet to be established.This program seeks to address this gap and make key contributions in technologies that will fully enable the aircraft of the future . "

Summary of the systems and their insertion in the aircraft. [Image: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign]

Cryogenic propulsion

The center for development includes engineers from five universities, as well as collaborations with Boeing and General Electric.

"Advances in recent years in non-cryogenic engines and engines have brought electrical propulsion from regional commercial jets closer to reality, but practical cryogenic systems continue to be the 'holy grail' for large aircraft because of their unmatched power and efficiency.The partnerships that have been established for this project position us well to address the significant technical obstacles that exist along this path, "said Professor Kiruba Haran, a member of the group.

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