A Fuel Cell Based Propulsion System for General Aviation Aircraft: The ENFICA-FC Experience 2011-01-2522
The hydrogen and fuel cell power based technologies that are rapidly emerging can be exploited to start a new generation of propulsion systems for light aircraft and small commuter aircraft.
Different studies were undertaken in recent years on fuel cells in aeronautics. Boeing Research & Technology Centre (Madrid) successfully flew its converted Super Dimona in 2008 relying on a fuel cell based system. DLR flew in July 2009 with the motor-glider Antares powered by fuel cells.
The goal of the ENFICA-FC project (ENvironmentally Friendly Inter City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells - European Commission funded project coordinated by Prof. Giulio Romeo) was to develop and validate new concepts of fuel cell based power systems for more/all electric aircrafts belonging to a “inter-city” segment of the market. As a result of the project, a technology demonstrator was designed, manufactured and tested: a new proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell based power system was installed in the Skyleader RAPID200 that had its demonstrative flights in 2010.
One of the most critical, if not the most critical, aspect of the all-electric power system adopted for demonstrator is undoubtedly prediction of fuel cell behaviour, specifically in terms of temperature control since reduced volumes and low weights (needed for the aeronautical applications) are not beneficial from a heat-management point of view. Moreover temperature control of PEM fuel cell is extremely important for a correct employment of the cell itself and, since the fuel cell is the main power generating device on the aircraft (batteries are however present as emergency back-up), temperature control becomes a very important safety issue too. In particular, as the ionic conduction of the polymeric membrane is a function of its degree of humidification, the stack temperature has to be carefully controlled to avoid phenomena of water evaporation causing an increase of ohmic drop and a decrease of stack performances. The output power of the fuel cells system is affected considerably by the change of the stack temperature.
The paper will report a description of the research activity that lead to the fuel cell based power system developed for the ENFICA-FC project: the main topics will regard the design phase, including numerical and theoretical modelling (validated by flight tests) of the fuel cell system and its cooling, the results of ground testing and installation and, finally, the results of flight testing.