University of Illinois has announced that NASA is underwriting a project to develop a cryogenic hydrogen fuel cell system for powering all-electric aircraft. Funded by a three-year, US$6 million contract, the Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft (CHEETA) will investigate the technology needed to produce a practical all-electric design to replace conventional fossil fuel propulsion systems. Assistant Professor Phillip Ansell in the Aerospace Department is PI and Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Kiruba Haran is Co-PI.
Significant seed funding from the Grainger CEME supported Professor Haran’s vision for this high-risk cryogenic research. It is validated by CHEETA, a consortium of nine institutions that includes the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Research and Technology, General Electric Global Research, Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arkansas, the University of Dayton Research Institute, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“Essentially, the program focuses on the development of a fully electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as an energy storage method,” says Phillip Ansell. “The hydrogen chemical energy is converted to electrical energy through a series of fuel cells, which drive the ultra-efficient electric propulsion system. The low temperature requirements of the hydrogen system also provide opportunities to use superconducting, or lossless, energy transmission and high-power motor systems.”
“It’s similar to how MRIs work, magnetic resonance imaging. However, these necessary electrical drivetrain systems do not yet exist, and the methods for integrating electrically driven propulsion technologies into an aircraft platform have not yet been effectively established. This program seeks to address this gap and make foundational contributions in technologies that will enable fully electric aircraft of the future.
“Advances in recent years on non-cryogenic machines and drives have brought electric propulsion of commercial regional jets closer to reality, but practical cryogenic systems remain the ‘holy grail’ for large aircraft because of their unmatched power density and efficiency,” says Professor Kiruba Haran. “The partnerships that have been established for this project position us well to address the significant technical hurdles that exist along this path.”
Excepted from article by David Szondy, University of Illinois.