Boeing-American Airlines test in flight fuel cells



Boeing and American Airlines are teaming up to test flight a suite of environmentally progressive technologies that increase fuel efficiency and reduce airplane noise using a Next-Generation 737-800 airplane known as the ecoDemonstrator.

American Airlines is loaning the new 737-800 to Boeing so engineers can gather data about the viability of each technology being tested. After testing is complete, the airplane will be returned to standard configuration and delivered to American later this year.

One of the more interesting technologies being put through its paces is the use of regenerative fuel cells to power on board utilities such as galleys, ovens and coffee makers.

The regenerative fuel cell that is being tested uses surplus energy produced when the aircraft is cruising to break down ionized water into water and oxygen, which are then stored and used to power the plane.

Eventually, fuel cells could provide half the power used on the airplane. The experimental fuel cell on the ecoDemonstrator can generate 15 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a typical three-bedroom house.

Widespread use of airborne fuel cells likely is decades away and must await finding ways to make the system safe given that hydrogen is a highly flammable gas. One idea being tested is keeping the fuel cell's hydrogen supply outside of the pressurized part of the plane, possibly in the tail behind the rear pressure bulkhead.

'At American Airlines, we are working diligently to improve our carbon footprint. Reducing noise pollution, conserving fuel and waste minimization are just a few of the areas where we are making progress,' said David Campbell, vice president of Safety, Security, and Environmental for American Airlines.

'This is why it is so crucial for us to participate in programs like the ecoDemonstrator, so that we can test technologies that will continue to improve not only American's environmental performance, but our entire industry as well. We remain committed to doing our part to be good stewards for the environment.'

Other technologies on the 2012 ecoDemonstrator airplane include variable area fan nozzles, active engine vibration reduction, and testing of flight trajectory optimization to enable more efficient routing for fuel savings.

With fuel now the leading operating expenditure for airlines worldwide and increasingly stringent environmental regulations, improving fuel efficiency and reducing carbon and noise emissions is a top priority for the aviation sector.

'Boeing is fully committed to helping airlines operate more efficiently, with reduced environmental impact,' said John Tracy, Boeing chief technology officer.

'We are committed because it is the right thing to do, and because meeting the environmental challenges we face will enable our industry to grow and broaden the benefits that aviation provides to global economic growth.'

The FAA program known as CLEEN (Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise) provided funding for the adaptive trailing edge on the airplane as well as some flight test costs.

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