The same technology that helped light up the red carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony is being tested to generate electricity on board Boeing commercial aircraft.
“Fuel cells are probably more familiar than a lot of people realize,” said Joe Breit, associate technical fellow and principal investigator for fuel cell technology at Boeing. “Fuel cells can generate localized power to run portable lighting, for example, without the noise and emissions from a diesel generator.”
In addition to high-profile terrestrial uses, such as at the Oscars, Breit’s team has been evaluating prototype fuel-cell technology that can provide clean onboard power and help improve the overall energy efficiency of jet aircraft.
Fuel cells cleanly convert the chemical energy in fuels such as hydrogen into electricity. A simple application would be to power a commercial airplane galley used to heat food and brew coffee.
“Fuel cells are a good example of distributed power that can generate electricity closer to where it’s used and help reduce the amount of wiring running through the airplane. It increases the versatility and efficiency of our onboard energy supply,” said George Roe, leader of the energy management team in Boeing’s research and development group. “Simpler, lighter and more efficient systems mean airplanes burn less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide.”
A fuel cell is one of the clean technologies that will be tested this year on board the inaugural flight of the ecoDemonstrator. The Next-Generation 737 will evaluate emerging technologies designed to improve the environmental performance of Boeing products by improving fuel efficiency, reducing noise and making greater use of sustainable materials.
“The ecoDemonstrator flights are important because they help us gain experience with the technology and how it integrates with the airplane,” Breit said.
“I also believe fuel cells are an example of the advanced technology that will help Boeing deliver on its goal of improving energy efficiency by 15 to 20 percent in each new generation of aircraft.”