December 5, 2022

East Valley Times

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An airline turned a commercial airliner into a laboratory to test hydrogen

An aircraft with more than 30 years of flight history has been salvaged to fit a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system into its structure.

Whenever the carbon footprint of current and electric cars is discussed, one of the common responses from those who believe that internal combustion engines should not be banned is that airplanes continue to fly and burn more gasoline, and no one has thought to ban them.

They are partly right, but partly not. Yes, that is true Airplanes They pollute more than cars. It’s also true that there are far fewer airplanes than cars in the world, even if emissions were equal. Only 16% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe come from private cars and light commercial transport.

But it is also true that regulations already envisage that airplanes will use synthetic fuels in the coming years, and there is a solution to this as the same turbines can be used without pollution. Electrical fuels The flight is expensive and can be paid for. Maybe ticket prices will go up, that’s an option.

Lufthansa Technik is in charge of developing the program "Hydrogen Aviation Lab"
Lufthansa Technik is in charge of developing the “Hydrogen Aviation Lab” project

However, lab fuel is not the only way to fly airplanes without harming the environment with CO2 emissions. Hydrogen is an efficient way to create combustion for heavy-duty engines, but is also an energy-generating component for electric propulsion systems.

LufthansaThe iconic German airline has developed a program called “”.Hydrogen Aviation Lab”, for which they will begin to investigate the operation of a conventional aircraft with these components as part of the materials that generate electricity for electric motors, i.e. a fuel cell system or fuel cell.

Airplane A Airbus A320 More than 76,000 flight hours and more than 54,000 cycles, decommissioned in 2020, will now be repurposed for this purpose. The comprehensive plan includes the installation of hydrogen recharging infrastructure on the ground and the installation of a liquid hydrogen tank and fuel cell in the aircraft. The project was initiated by Lufthansa Technik and will take place entirely at Hamburg Airport.

The aircraft will not fly, but will have seasonal inspection activities related to recharging liquid hydrogen in its tanks.
The aircraft will not fly, but will have seasonal inspection activities related to recharging liquid hydrogen in its tanks.

But the plane doesn’t fly. It will be a ground lab where hydrogen recharging will be tested, which is more than just recharging itself, as it includes ways to speed up the process, peripheral devices, safety procedures, and fuel transport and storage.

In addition, a parallel scenario will be carried out at the digital level, in which various variations of all these materials will be simulated with safety and practicality, in less time and at less cost of resources and materials.

Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is stored inside the aircraft's fuselage, in cylindrical or spherical tanks, which are pressurized to withstand high pressure.
Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is stored inside the aircraft’s fuselage, in cylindrical or spherical tanks, which are pressurized to withstand high pressure.

But there is much work to be done. Most important is the architecture of the aircraft Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is much denser than conventional aviation kerosene. But in addition, liquid hydrogen tanks are exposed to higher pressures than current tanks and, therefore, must be stored in spherical or cylindrical tanks. All that remains is to place them as part of the fuselage, requiring extensive changes to the aircraft’s architecture without affecting the aircraft’s aerodynamics. It will take space from the seats originally planned for passengers.

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Another technical challenge is where the electric motors will be installed. If it is near the tanks, the wiring will be large, if it is near the turbines, the LH2 track will need to be very long, and in both cases it is important not to overload the aircraft with more insulation than necessary. The study is just beginning and the timeline is long. Lufthansa Technik aims to fly its hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft by the middle of the next decade.

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