A General Aviation Aircraft Retrofit with a PEM Fuel Cell 2008-01-2914
As gas prices and climate change become the preeminent issues of today, more research effort is being directed towards the development of cheaper and cleaner alternative energy sources. These efforts have been further complemented with research into the applicability of these sources to air, land and sea borne vehicles. In this report a notional C-172R general aviation aircraft is retrofitted with a PEM power plant as a case-study. Lower bounds for useful load and range are set in such a way that the results can be useful in determining how much improvement in the technology would be required to power a useful general aviation vehicle. It is seen that even at the predicted 2015 fuel cell technology level (per US Department of Energy projections), PEM systems would still be infeasible for this vehicle due to low specific power. Further investigation revealed that a PEM-battery hybrid system had better chances of feasibility. The hybrid system was sized to maximize system specific power, while conforming to the maximum take-off gross weight constraint, minimum useful load as well as the volume availability in the vehicle. At the 2015 technology level a hybrid vehicle capable of one third of the mission range at a lower cruise altitude is found to be feasible. This concept was seen to be economically unattractive due to power-plant and fuel costs. However, with almost no emissions, a lower noise signature and the increasing oil prices, vehicles based on this or similar concepts are bound enter the market in the future.