DLR and MTU Aero Engines study fuel cell propulsion system for aviation

©MTU and DLR signing of MOU

Emission-free flight is a central goal of civil aviation. Emission-free air transport could be achieved in the long-term by converting hydrogen into electricity. This would enable the environment-friendly electrification of propulsion systems.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and MTU Aero Engines are focusing on a fuel cell propulsion system, which they will jointly develop and validate. A Dornier 228 aircraft will be used as the flight demonstrator. On August 5, 2020, the partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen.

The MoU was signed by Prof Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research and Technology, and Lars Wagner, Chief Operating Officer at MTU Aero Engines. “Although great progress in the performance and lifespan of fuel cells has been made in recent years, there is still a considerable need for research into their use in aviation,” said Henke. “This planned joint research-industry project is the first of many steps towards emission-free aviation.” Lars Wagner adds: “As things stand today, fuel cells utilizing sustainably produced hydrogen offer the greatest long-term potential for realizing emissions-free aviation. We believe that they could offer sufficient performance and range for regional, short- and medium-haul aircraft.” 

In order to develop and validate such technology, the partners plan to equip a Dornier 228 aircraft with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell and an electrical, single-sided propeller engine  with over 500 kW shaft output, and flight test it over the coming years. Apart from water, fuel cells have no emissions and are highly efficient. The aim of the joint technology project is to develop a complete drive train suitable for aviation (power line) and its cooling (cooling line). The electrification of the powertrain is a core technology that serves to prepare a flying fuel-cell-based propulsion system. The partners are aiming for the maiden flight of the Do228 demonstrator to take place from 2026 onwards.

DLR is managing the flight project and providing and operating the research aircraft. It is also responsible for the integration and certification of the powertrain.

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