One of the main objectives of electrochemistry has long been to produce fuel cells with the capability to provide aircrafts with enough energy to take off by only using the power obtained from hydrogen fuel cells. Lange Aviation and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have developed a hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered aircraft, the Antares DLR-H2. The Antares flies with zero CO2 emission and has a much lower noise footprint than other, comparable, motor gliders.
The challenge now facing the developers is to keep the fuel cell system as small and lightweight as possible for practical applications. The MEA developed by BASF is now opening up new horizons for system builders: it contains the world's first commercially available membrane for fuel cells which allows operating temperatures of up to 180 degrees Celcius. The innovative systems are marketed under the brand name Celtec®. Fuel cells equipped with this material can be cooled by the air and don't have to be moistened with water. This eliminates the need for air humidifiers, water pumps, tanks, valves and cleaning systems. Thanks to Celtec®, fuel cell systems now need a third fewer components, which reduces the costs by up to 40 percent.
Innovative fuel cell technology with Celtec® membrane electrode assembly from BASF
Developers agree that fuel cells may offer a solution to stable energy supply, as hydrogene may be gained by several methods: from wind and solar energy, natural gas, and diesel oil.
Following the test flights in the Antares, DLR intends to install the fuel cell in their Airbus A320, where it will be optimized for use in wide-bodied aircraft to make the on-board electricity supply more efficient in future. Installed in a wide-bodied aircraft, the fuel cell would be a real all-rounder: not only can the electricity it generates be used to supply energy, the by-products heat and water could also serve as "antifreeze" for the wings and to supply the washrooms.
The high temperature fuel cells will soon be available to a range of mobile applications: to produce electricity and heat in a camping site, or to provide mobile phones and laptops with electrical power.