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ENvironmentally Friendly, InterCity Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells

Tags: Air


Rapidly emerging hydrogen and fuel-cell power-based technologies can now be exploited to initiate a new era of propulsion systems for light aircraft and small commuter aircraft. In addition, these technologies can also be developed for the future replacement of onboard electrical systems in larger ‘more-electric’ or ‘all-electric’ aircraft.

The feasibility of this project is dependent on several key-enabling technologies including fuel-cell stacks and integrated systems, hydrogen fuel storage and a safe airport-based hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure. Another important consideration is that it should demonstrate the path to future economic viability.

The primary advantages of deploying these technologies are low noise and low emissions – features which are particularly important for commuter airplanes that usually takeoff and land from urban areas. The possibility to takeoff and land within the noise abatement regulations set for small airfields, in urban areas and near population centres, will allow the use of these airfields late at night when noise abatement regulations are even more stringent.


The main objective of the ENFICA-FC project is to develop and validate the use of a fuel-cell-based power system for propulsion of more-/all-electric aircraft. The fuel-cell system will be installed in a selected aircraft which will be flight and performance tested as proof of functionality and future applicability for intercity aircraft. It will also demonstrate that noise levels and pollutant emissions can be significantly reduced, or even eliminated, by more-/all-electric aircraft in the air and on the ground.

No other project funded by the European Commission will give such ambitious results and it will be presented at both a ground level and an in-flight public event within the scheduled time.

A feasibility study will be carried out to define new aircraft propulsion systems that can be achieved by fuel-cell technologies, (with performance improvements expected within the next 10-15 years) together with other aircraft-based applications.

From these studies, and combined with detailed design and published results obtained from previous projects, scientific and technological innovations are to be pursued sequentially through the development of innovative technologies in the fields of more-/all-electric aircraft and then exploited through the design, building, installation and flight test validation of a small aircraft powered by a fuel-cell system. This will all be achieved within in the 36-month project duration.


Description of work

  1. A feasibility study will be carried out to provide a preliminary definition of new forms of aircraft propulsion systems that can be obtained by fuel-cell technologies with the following objectives:
    • identification of requirements of specific applications for regional transport aircraft (APU, primary electrical generation supply, emergency electrical power supply, landing gear, etc.)
    • preliminary definition of propulsion system including: fuel stack (comparison between PEM, SOFC, MCFC, etc.), hydrogen storage or direct onboard production, fuel-cell system, electric motor and power management system
    • definition of preliminary relevant systems and subsystems; integration of fuel-cell systems in the pressurised structure of aircraft operational behaviour
    • safety, certification, maintenance and installation
    • reliability and maintainability concept definition; life-cycle cost evaluation.
  2. A scale-size, electric motor-driven airplane powered by fuel cells will be developed and validated by a flight test.
  3. An existing, highly efficient design of a two-seater aircraft that has already been certified will be used. The fuel-cell system and the electric motor will be integrated onboard; the flight control system will also be converted into an electric system. The following items will be pursued:

    • a fuel-cell unit will be designed, built and tested in a laboratory ready to be installed onboard for flying
    • highly efficient brushless electric motors and power electronics apparatus will be designed and manufactured ready to be installed onboard for flying
    • an efficiency of greater than 90% should be obtained by an optimised aerodynamic propeller design
    • a study of the flight mechanics of the new aircraft will be carried out to verify the new flight performance
    • a flight test bed of the aircraft, capable of remaining aloft for one hour, will be the main goal of the project to validate the overall high performance of an all-electric aircraft system.


In defining the intercity aircraft systems that can be powered by fuel cell technologies, the feasibility study will take into account future generation fuel cells (with the performance improvements expected within the next 10-15 years) and will thereby show the technical (and performance) advantages that could be obtained in contrast with existing conventional systems.

In addition, the feasibility of an all-electric propulsion intercity aircraft (10 to 15-seater), completely equipped by fuel cells, will be studied in order to assess the impact that a more silent and less polluting aircraft will have in being able to takeoff and land from congested urban areas using short airfields.

The other ambitious result will be to present, at a public event within the scheduled time, the flight test bed of the aircraft capable of remaining aloft for several hours, which will validate the overall high environmental performance of an all-electric aircraft system.

INTELLIGENT ENERGY - 12 kWe Fuel cells stack
INTELLIGENT ENERGY - 12 kWe Fuel cells stack