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Biofuels plane

Published on October 1st, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

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First Fuel Cell-Powered Plane Presented in Germany

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October 1st, 2008 by  

plane

Last night, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) demonstrated the world’s first manned airplane that can fly exclusively with the use of a fuel cell. The fuel cell, which is based on polymer electrolyte membranes (PEM), generates power for the motor glider’s electric engine.

PEM fuel cells are both simple and safe— they can operate between 120 and 180 C, only need a simple cooling system, don’t require humidification, and and can tolerate hydrogen gas impurities.

While the DLR’s demonstration is promising, its technology requires significantly more testing before it can be used commercially. And when PEM fuel cells are ready for aircraft use, they probably will only be used in small planes.

The DLR isn’t the first organization to test fuel cells for flight— this past April, Boeing flew a  plane for 20 minutes on power generated solely by onboard fuel cells. But unlike the DLR’s plane,  the Boeing model used lithium-ion batteries for takeoff.

While fuel cells may not be used to power aircraft anytime soon, they could be used in the near future for auxiliary power-generation in small planes.

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



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  • http://writertotheworld.com Writer to the World

    Glad to hear it Ariel. You always have good stories, and you’re a regular stop of mine in the morning. Email me when you get a chance to talk about linking. I’m relatively new to blogging and I have a question.

  • http://writertotheworld.com Writer to the World

    Glad to hear it Ariel. You always have good stories, and you’re a regular stop of mine in the morning. Email me when you get a chance to talk about linking. I’m relatively new to blogging and I have a question.

  • http://writertotheworld.com Writer to the World

    Glad to hear it Ariel. You always have good stories, and you’re a regular stop of mine in the morning. Email me when you get a chance to talk about linking. I’m relatively new to blogging and I have a question.

  • Uncle B

    Still looking for hydrogen gas lift devices towed by solar powered props to move heavy freight cheaply. GPS guides and unmanned flight also required to keep costs and liabilities down. Fuel cells may drive props at night and on cloudy intervals but cheaper than rail is objective!

  • Uncle B

    Still looking for hydrogen gas lift devices towed by solar powered props to move heavy freight cheaply. GPS guides and unmanned flight also required to keep costs and liabilities down. Fuel cells may drive props at night and on cloudy intervals but cheaper than rail is objective!

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Brian – I agree. It will be a long time before fuel cells become mainstream. As for the RSS feed, I’m on a semi-vacation at the moment and I believe the last new post was made on Thursday. Stay tuned, though – things should be back to normal next week.

  • http://writertotheworld.com Writer to the World

    Hi Ariel,

    Again, a very nice story.

    There are several issues with fuel cell technology though that will keep it from being widely accepted for many years.

    The first are distribution and storage. It isn’t easy to do either with hydrogen. Applications such as airplanes, ships and others where the fueling for a single trip is done at a terminal facility are the best.

    The second, and in my opinion the most mportant, is that fuel cells use platinum as the catylist. This is a highly expensive and relatively rare metal that will keep costs up. Further, it’s a natural resource that must be mined. In my view, until a better catylist is found, fuel cells will have an uphill climb as a widely-used energy source.

    P.S. For some reason, my RSS reader hasn’t been getting updates on a regular basis from Green Options since Wednesday. Any idea why? I need my Ariel fix in the morning!

  • http://writertotheworld.com Writer to the World

    Hi Ariel,

    Again, a very nice story.

    There are several issues with fuel cell technology though that will keep it from being widely accepted for many years.

    The first are distribution and storage. It isn’t easy to do either with hydrogen. Applications such as airplanes, ships and others where the fueling for a single trip is done at a terminal facility are the best.

    The second, and in my opinion the most mportant, is that fuel cells use platinum as the catylist. This is a highly expensive and relatively rare metal that will keep costs up. Further, it’s a natural resource that must be mined. In my view, until a better catylist is found, fuel cells will have an uphill climb as a widely-used energy source.

    P.S. For some reason, my RSS reader hasn’t been getting updates on a regular basis from Green Options since Wednesday. Any idea why? I need my Ariel fix in the morning!

  • Ron Adams

    Keep looking for the good and keep spreading that good.

  • Ron Adams

    Keep looking for the good and keep spreading that good.

  • Ron Adams

    Keep looking for the good and keep spreading that good.

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