NASA looks to fuel cells and lithium air batteries for next generation of propulsion
The technologies will be evaluated and expored in the next two years under the Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program. Other areas include using 3D printing electric motor components, new mechanisms for changing the shape of an aircraft wing in flight; and the use of a lightweight material called aerogel in the design and development of aircraft antenna.
These five concepts aim to cut fuel use by half, lower harmful emissions by 75 percent, and significantly reduce aircraft noise.
“There definitely was an emphasis in our selections on bringing forward activities that addressed a NASA aeronautics goal to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation during the 21st century,” said Doug Rohn, the programme manager. “Is failure an option? It depends on your definition of failure. We’re going to ask the questions and see if these ideas are feasible or not. A successful feasibility assessment may determine the concept won’t work,” he said.
FUELEAP (Fostering Ultra-Efficient Low-Emitting Aviation Power) will look at a fuel cell system that would be able to pull hydrogen from standard hydrocarbon-based aviation gas, pull oxygen from the air, and then combine the hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. Exhaust products from the process also would be used to increase energy output through a turbine.
The fuel cell would generate this energy more efficiently than if the fuel were burned in a standard piston engine, thus saving fuel and reducing emissions. Such a system also could be supported by airports right now as it wouldn’t require any expensive new facilities or equipment to be installed.
The LION (Lithium Oxygen Batteries for NASA Electric Aircraft) project will investigate the feasibility of designing, novel, ultra-stable electrolytes for lithium air batteries that are resistant to decomposition so the batteries will last longer, allowing aircraft to extend the distance they can fly.