Fuel-cell APU to power future aircraft

Airbus has selected Loughborough-based power systems group Intelligent Energy to provide a multi-functional fuel-cell auxiliary power unit (APU) for on-board power in future commercial aircraft.

The agreement builds on previous work by Airbus on how hydrogen fuel cells can provide power for aircraft. The group has previously tested a hydrogen and oxygen-based fuel-cell system on board its A320 test aircraft.

In August, Airbus opened the Aerotec Fuel Cell Test Centre for the development and testing of fuel-cell systems. The facility has already tested Intelligent Energy’s fuel-cell system for multi-functional on-board power supply.

According to Intelligent Energy, the fuel cell can be used for various applications in the aircraft cabin to reduce drain on the main engines and reduce CO2 emissions. These applications include power for an aircraft’s back-up hydraulic and electric power systems, as well as operation of the ailerons.

Henri Winand, chief executive at Intelligent Energy, said: ‘The advantage of incorporating hydrogen fuel-cell technology into aviation is multi-faceted and part of the movement towards “more electric aircraft”. Not only do fuel cells reduce emissions and decrease fuel consumption but as we move to a lower-carbon economy, the airlines can diversify their fuel supply base, becoming less exposed to volatility in fuel prices.’

Winand added: ‘Intelligent Energy operates a focused, working capital efficient “design once, deploy many times” market development approach for our power systems, which allows our customers operating in different market segments to benefit from commercialisation in other non-competing markets.’

The APU fuel cell is designed around the group’s common-core fuel-cell systems, which are currently used in automotive programmes such as Intelligent Energy’s fuel-cell hybrid London taxi and in distributed power work with Scottish and Southern Energy.

In February 2008, Intelligent Energy first demonstrated the application of its fuel cells for the aviation industry when it provided the system to Boeing that powered the world’s first manned fuel-cell aircraft.