The future climate-neutral air transport system needs carbon-dioxide-free propulsion technologies. For regional aircraft, hydrogen-electric propulsion systems with hydrogen fuel cell technology offer a promising option. This is now receiving a strong boost from the '328H2-FC' project. Led by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in cooperation with H2FLY, Deutsche Aircraft, Diehl Aviation and six other partners, the project is the first to develop a fuel cell system with a power output of one and a half megawatts for use in flight. The project opens up a technological perspective for future regional aircraft with 40 seats. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz; BMWK) presented the funding notification at the beginning of 2022. The BMWK is funding the realisation of the first megawatt hydrogen fuel cell system for air transport with approximately 30 million euros.
Within the scope of the partnership, a Dornier 328 aircraft will be converted to be used for hydrogen-electric passenger flights for the first time. This involves the electrification of the powertrain and the integration of a fuel cell system, including a cooling system and a liquid hydrogen tank. The '328H2-FC' project paves the way for proving the potential of hydrogen for climate-neutral air transport. The unique hybrid-electric powered demonstration aircraft for EASA’s large aircraft class ('CS25') is scheduled to take off for the first time in 2025. Before that, tests of the fuel cell system that is to be developed are planned, using a new ground-based test facility at DLR.
André Thess, Director of the DLR Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics says: "With a fuel cell that generates more than one megawatt of power, we are opening the door to climate-neutral passenger air transport without carbon dioxide emissions. At DLR's Stuttgart site, we will test the new technology extensively before moving on to aircraft integration and initial flight tests. By the end of the decade, such passenger aircraft could already be in commercial operation."
Technology development and transfer
DLR is coordinating the project. To this end, DLR is responsible for the fuel cell test stand, the tank system, its testing and the interface between fuel cells and tank system, as well as the fuel cell housing with integrated sensors, safety components and their cooling system. The BALIS research infrastructure is used for testing the drive train. In addition, DLR is analysing emission data and investigating the overall climate impact of a possible 328H2-FC fleet, focusing on contrail formation and its impact. Furthermore, the project brings in DLR spin-off H2FLY as a partner, thus consolidating DLR's strategic position in the field of technology transfer.
Anna Christmann, Member of the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) and Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy: "H2FLY is an important building block for the future strategy of emission-free air transport. With this project funded by the BMWK, we have a unique opportunity to extend the technological lead in hydrogen-powered flight here in Germany. With our funding, we are making it possible for researchers to overcome the technical challenges involved in using hydrogen in air transport."
Josef Kallo, co-founder and CEO of H2FLY: "With this funding, H2FLY will consolidate its position as a global technology leader in hydrogen-electric propulsion. Flying with hydrogen without carbon dioxide emissions will become a reality." In cruise flight, the use of a hydrogen fuel cell energy system enables the aircraft to operate without emitting carbon dioxide, which means that a large part of the flight distance can be covered in a completely climate-neutral manner. For the energy-intensive take-off, a gas turbine will provide additional thrust as part of the testing of the hybrid-electric concept.
Martin Nüßeler, CTO of Deutsche Aircraft: "Our Dornier 328 is the optimal platform for demonstrating the new fuel cell technology. We can use this to bring the technology into real-world conditions and accelerate our progress towards climate-neutral air transport."
Benno Petersen, Head of Innovation and R&T at Diehl Aerospace: "Our company is participating in the '328H2-FC' project through extensive research programmes. This is a clear signal of our interest in this future-facing propulsion technology and underscores the important role that the supplier industry plays in the development of such innovative systems."
The project thrives on the cooperation between DLR, H2FLY, Deutsche Aircraft and Diehl Aviation (incl. Diehl Aerospace). Other project partners are AKG Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH, Bauhaus Luftfahrt e.V., GE Aviation, HS Elektronik GmbH, Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft mbH and Premium Aerotec GmbH. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is providing funding for the 328H2-FC project within the framework of the aeronautics research programme (LuFo VI-2). The joint project leader is DLR. The project builds on the predecessor projects 328eHY-LAB and 328eHY-TECH (LuFo VI-1) led by Deutsche Aircraft.
DLR - Research for emission-free flying with fuel cells
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is pursuing the vision of emission-free aviation. In the future, alternative climate-friendly propulsion systems will make a significant contribution to this. For regional aircraft, electric drives in combination with fuel cells and hydrogen offer a promising perspective. Specifically, DLR is researching two approaches in two different size classes with partners from the aviation industry. In the D328H2-FC project, a hybrid-electric system is to be developed and tested for aircraft with up to 40 passengers, consisting of a hydrogen fuel cell in the power class of over one megawatt and a gas turbine. In the Do-228FFC project, a 600-kilowatt engine combined with a hydrogen fuel cell is being developed and tested for flights with up to 18 passengers.