First Four-Seat, Hydrogen-Cell Airplane Flies

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A four-seat airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells completed a first test flight this week in Germany, reaching milestones in both size and emissions-free technology. Researchers at the German aerospace center, the DLR, have been developing the HY4 model with a mission to prove that hydrogen can be a viable aviation fuel. The flight from Stuttgart Airport lasted for 10 minutes, with two pilots and two dummies on board, according to an Associated Press report. The 80-kilowatt motor allows for flight at a maximum speed of about 200 kilometers per hour and a range of up to 1500 kilometers, according to the HY4 website. 

Slovenian aircraft maker Pipistrel, hydrogen systems company Hydrogenics and other researchers have partnered to develop the airplane, which features a hydrogen fuel cell, battery and electric motor. The battery powers takeoffs and climb, while the hydrogen cells provide efficient in-flight power. “With the HY4, we now have an optimal platform to continue developing the use of fuel cells on aircraft. Small passenger aircraft, such as the HY4, could soon be used in regional transport as electric air taxis and offer a flexible and rapid alternative to existing means of transport,” the DLR said in a statement.

Comments (5)

This is not zero emissions. Creating H2 from reformed CH4 creates CO2 as a by product. Creating H2 from water electrolysis depends on the electric grid. It takes more energy to electrolyze H20 to get H2 + O2 than is available in the H2 fuel to propel a vehicle. When these little facts are taken into account, fuel cells are not as fuel efficient as claimed. One needs to look at the total energy used to consider the system efficiency.

It is good to see that fuel cell research is continuing but do not be fooled by the Zero Emissions label. In the US think of electric aircraft and cars as being coal powered because that is how most electricity is generated.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | September 29, 2016 8:03 PM    Report this comment

Boeing tried fuel cells about 10 years ago and then donated their plane to a college. Everyone wants distance to make EV a reality. It takes energy to make planes, batteries and to power them. An example of "Emissions-free" is walking for a means of travel, but still some emissions are created. The best solution to extend the flight time that I have found is from a small company in Florida. What they have is absolutely amazing.

Posted by: Don Lineback | September 30, 2016 7:14 AM    Report this comment

Zero emissions is a red herring. If your objective is to REDUCE combustion-byproduct emissions of CO2, then hydrogen is an attractive alternative fuel. If you combust the hydrogen, you can use cheap, readily-available engines - and most of your combustion energy output will be wasted heat. If you catalyze your hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen, you can recover a lot more energy as electricity - and the net propulsion can exceed that which you would derive from combusting classic hydrocarbon fuels.

Batteries have low energy densities, and they are heavy. Okay for cars; terrible for planes. You have to endure their entire weight throughout the entire flight - unless you are willing to jettison them in flight, one AA cell at a time! Kind of expensive, and hard-hats recommended.

With a fuel cell, 16/18ths of the weight of your fuel is provided by atmospheric oxygen - which you don't have to loft into the sky and carry around with you.

Coal-fired electricity may dominate today, but that is likely to change over time.

I'm exceptionally-well-qualified to characterize all of this as a no-brainer.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 30, 2016 10:39 AM    Report this comment

"An example of "Emissions-free" is walking for a means of travel, but still some emissions are created."

Here in California, cow emissions are becoming an issue. Fortunately, cows don't fly.

Posted by: neil cormia | September 30, 2016 2:41 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps bird emissions should come under scrutiny. Can't be too green, you know...

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 1, 2016 6:35 AM    Report this comment

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