Five New Ideas to be Explored by NASA Aeronautics Teams.They might not work, but no one will know for sure unless they’re given a chance.
That’s the general idea behind the recent selection of five aviation-related technologies for vigorous study as part of NASA’s ongoing Convergent Aeronautics Solutions project during the next two years of so, which itself is now in its second year.
In one of those ideas, researchers will study a new kind of fuel cell.
NASA researchers are looking into using a new type of fuel cell that takes hydrogen from standard aviation gas, and oxygen from the air, and combines the two elements to generate electricity to power an all-electric or hybrid electric airplane.
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The idea here is to see if a new kind of fuel cell can be used to generate power for an electrically-propelled General Aviation-sized aircraft.
Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity and have been a staple of NASA’s human spaceflight programs going back to Project Gemini during the mid-1960s. Typically, the hydrogen and oxygen is stored onboard the vehicle as super cold liquids, requiring complex and expensive tankage and plumbing that would not be practical for a small, single-engine airplane.
Researchers will study 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.