CAeS successfully integrates hydrogen fuel cell technology into an aircraft

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) has successfully integrated the design of its hydrogen fuel cell technology into the nacelle of an aircraft.

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions

According to CAeS, at the core of its work is the development of a hydrogen fuel cell drive train that will be a safe, certifiable, and commercially viable solution for the aviation market.

The company said that adapting fuel cell technology for aviation poses unique challenges, and that the successful integration of a 240kW system (110 per cent of the power of the engine that it replaces) into the nacelle showcases CAeS’ ability to overcome these challenges.

For instance, the design team faced challenges in packaging the hydrogen fuel cell along with its electrical components, cooling equipment, pipe routing, and cable routing, as space within the nacelle was extremely limited.

The forward section of the nacelle houses the Hydrogen Fuel Cell System (HFCS) itself, the HFCS Balance of Plant (BoP), an electric motor, inverters and controllers, pitch control unit, and all the electrical cabling/routing and cooling systems for the HFCS.

The rear nacelle contains the ground power interface and the high voltage power distribution system, each with its own cooling and packaging challenges.

Mounted around the existing main landing gear is the structure for the HFCS heat exchangers, which includes relevant pipework for the HFCS cooling system. CAeS said this integration required planning, iterative design, and close coordination with partners Reaction Engines, to ensure optimal performance.

CAeS said that this development not only marks engineering and technological progress but also a ‘significant step’ toward certification and commercialisation of the company’s zero-emissions technology.

In a statement, Jenny Kavanagh, chief strategy officer at CAeS, said: “The decision was taken early on in the programme that before proceeding to ground and flight test, we had to ensure that we had solved the packaging and thermal management challenges that underpin the commercial viability of the technology.

“Now that this significant milestone has been achieved, CAeS is progressing to the next stage of the project and to launching into manufacture for the testing campaign.”

CAeS said it can now explore integration of the HFCS into other aircraft platforms and applications, like the recently announced collaboration with Dronamics that showcased the potential for zero-emissions middle mile cargo UAVs.