Aviation’s path to zero emissions is dependent on advancements in propulsion systems, and MTU Aero Engines is at the forefront of developing innovative concepts to achieve this ambitious goal.
CEO Lars Wagner highlights the company’s focus on full electrification of the powertrain, with a particular emphasis on converting liquid hydrogen into electricity using fuel cell technology.
MTU’s groundbreaking solution is known as the Flying Fuel Cell™ (FFC). A dedicated team of over 100 experts is currently based in Munich, working on this revolutionary concept. The principle behind the FFC is the conversion of liquid hydrogen into electrical energy through a fuel cell, which then drives a high-efficiency electric motor that powers the aircraft’s propeller. This approach offers numerous advantages, including exceptional efficiency and zero emissions of CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter, with only water being emitted.
The implementation of the FFC will initially focus on shorter commuter and regional flights, with plans to enter the market by 2035. As efficiency improves, the Flying Fuel Cell will progressively be adopted for short- and medium-haul flights by 2050, further reducing the environmental impact of commercial aviation.
To bring the FFC to life, MTU has partnered with eMoSys GmbH, a leading developer and manufacturer of electric motors based in Starnberg, Germany. Since April, eMoSys has become part of MTU, allowing the company to expand its expertise and activities in powertrain electrification. The electric motor being developed for the FFC aims to set new standards in terms of power density, size, weight, and performance. With a diameter of just 300 millimeters and weighing a mere 40 kilograms, this motor will deliver a continuous output of 600 kilowatts, achieving an impressive performance density of 15 kilowatts per kilogram.
The collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) plays a crucial role in the FFC’s development. MTU is responsible for developing the entire hydrogen-powered fuel cell powertrain, including the liquid hydrogen fuel system and controls. The technology platform and flight demonstrator for the FFC is a Dornier Do228 aircraft owned by DLR. The goal is to replace one of the conventional gas turbine propulsion systems with a 600 kW electric powertrain fueled by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell from MTU. The partners aim to launch the flying lab by the mid-2020s, conducting extensive ground and advance testing.
Concurrently, MTU is collaborating with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to establish approval requirements for flying fuel cells. As this pioneering technology is uncharted territory, both parties are working on defining new standards, approval specifications, and documentation procedures to ensure the safe operation of flying fuel cells as an innovative propulsion concept.
MTU sees the development of an airworthy fuel cell as a significant opportunity, as the knowledge and data acquired in this process, particularly regarding control systems and aviation law compliance, will be invaluable for future product development.
MTU Aero Engines’ pursuit of the Flying Fuel Cell™ represents a major step forward in achieving zero-emission aviation. By leveraging fuel cell technology and partnering with key organizations, MTU aims to revolutionize the industry and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for air travel.