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MTU Aero Engines announces 'Flying Fuel Cell' program for H2-based aviation

Source: MTU Aero Engines

German aviation tech firm MTU Aero Engines AG  is working on various concepts of zero-emission aviation propulsion systems to achieve the aviation industry's big goal of becoming carbon neutral in the coming decades. The company is developing an aviation hydrogen fuel cell technology, whose market launch for shorter commuter and regional flights is planned for 2035. 

"Among other things, we are forging ahead with the full electrification of the powertrain," explained MTU CEO Lars Wagner. "We've identified converting liquid hydrogen into electricity using a fuel cell as the area with the greatest potential for achieving this."

MTU has announced its latest concept named as 'Flying Fuel Cell' (FFC). The principle behind the concept is that a fuel cell converts liquid hydrogen into electrical energy. This means a high-efficiency electric motor drives the propeller. 

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The company claims that there are various advantages to this approach. First, fuel cells are highly efficient. Beyond that, they do not emit CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), or particulates; the only emissions are of water. 

"The FFC reduces the impact on the climate by as much as 95 percent, so it's practically zero," said Dr. Stefan Weber, Senior Vice President Engineering and Technology. 

A highly efficient electric motor for the FFC is being developed by MTU's subsidiary eMoSys GmbH. The Starnberg-based electric motor developer has been a part of MTU since April. "Together with eMoSys GmbH, we plan to accelerate the use of electric motors in aviation and make them market-ready," said Wagner, in the announcement about the takeover.

MTU plans FFC to be used at first on shorter commuter and regional flights. Weber continues, "We're aiming to launch on the market in 2035 there." With improved efficiency, the Flying Fuel Cell will then be used in short- and medium-haul flights as well starting in 2050, further reducing the climate impact of commercial aviation, according to the company. 

The FFC program is cooperating with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). A Do228, owned by DLR, is being used as a technology platform and flight demonstrator. The goal is to replace one of the two conventional gas turbine propulsion systems with a 600 kW electric powertrain, with energy supplied by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell made by MTU and test the new configuration. 

The partners aim to launch the flying lab in the middle of this decade. Extensive ground tests and advance testing will take place before then, they claim. 

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"For an engine manufacturer like MTU, developing an airworthy fuel cell is a big opportunity, since the experience and data we gain in the process, including in the areas of control and qualification under aviation law, will be crucial to the further product development process", CEO Wagner opined.  

Author : Dhiyanesh Ravichandran
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