Azara Blog: Boeing tests a small hydrogen-powered plane

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Date published: 2008/04/04

The BBC says:

The first manned, hydrogen-powered plane has been successfully tested in the skies above Spain, its makers say.

The small, propeller-driven craft, developed by aviation giant Boeing, made three short flights at an airfield south of Madrid, the company said.

It was powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which produce only heat and water as exhaust products.

The tests could pave the way for a new generation of greener aircraft, the company said.
Three test flights of the two-seater aircraft took place in February and March at an airfield at Ocana, south of Madrid. The plane was modified to include a hybrid battery and fuel cell system developed by UK firm Intelligent Energy.
During take-off the planes batteries were used to provide an additional boost, but whilst in the air, the plane relied entirely on the cells.

Boeing said the plane has a flying time of 45 minutes but tests were limited to around half that time.

Although the test had been successful, the firm said it did not believe fuel cells could be the primary power source for large passenger aircraft.

However, it could be used as a secondary source of energy for large planes, according to Nieves Lapena, the engineer responsible for the test flights, but this may take some time to develop.

"In my opinion, we are talking about a delay of about twenty years," she said.

Right now an interesting curiosity, but it will need a major leap forward, in particular to do with battery technology, before this is useful. And unfortunately the BBC falls into the usual hydrogen-fuel hype of only looking at what happens when the hydrogen is burned (which as the article says, only produces heat and water), not how the hydrogen is produced in the first place. It is the same problem when they discuss wind, solar or even nuclear power. There is little point looking at one small part of a system lifecycle and claiming something is "green" just because of that. One has to look at the entire end-to-end system.

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