Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Aircraft

There's been much discussion lately about airfares and pricing out everyone but the rich. That's probably going to happen as fuel gets more expensive to some degree. One of the discussions took place on a local radio program and I had to chime in.

Wednesday morning one of the hosts of the show said that electrically powered propeller aircraft sounded like deathtraps. Any aircraft that runs out of fuel is a deathtrap, whether you're powering it with JP-7 or electricity.

Here's the deal: Modern, powerful, quiet turboprop aircraft are already making a comeback as an alternative to jet aircraft as they don't use nearly as much fuel. There are some incredibly classy executive private aircraft using modern prop technology, too. Here's an article from April about a propeller comeback:

And here's an example of a modern executive turboprop:

An electric aircraft is very unlikely to be battery powered, as batteries are even heavier than a 500 pound passenger. They'll probably be powered by electricity from hydrogen fuel cells. Remember, compressed hydrogen is running about $2 per kilogram (about a gallon) at the moment. Compare that to your gasoline or jet fuel.

By the way, Boeing evidently had this idea before I did:

The technology is only ready for small planes at the moment, much like our early combustion engines could hardly get the Wright Brother's rig into the air. As hydrogen fuel cells start going into our cars, the technology will get better, cheaper, lighter and eventually will be capable of powering larger propeller aircraft.

So, we're a few years away, but it isn't far fetched or a death trap at all. People could build houses under airports--no jet engine noise, no exhaust except water vapor, so it makes the environmentalists a bit less unhappy, too. Nothing actually makes environmentalists happy.

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