Hydrogen fuel cells have great difficulty moving as the energy source for ground vehicles, but many are beginning to look forways to driving without emissions. A new start-up air taxi, Alaka’i Technologies this week unveiled an electric plane for five passengers, runs on liquid hydrogen, which, according to the creators, will be more efficient and powerful than aircraft batteries, which develop numerous competitors.
What is more efficient: electricity or hydrogen?
The company to create a “flying car” is in Massachusetts and it’s run by people from NASA, Raythein, Airbus, Boeing and Department of defense. Recently she presented the layout of the aircraft with six screws under the name Skai in Los Angeles, BMW Designworks, which collaborated on the design of the aircraft. Alaka’i said that the final product will be able to fly up to four hours to cover 600 kilometers in one loading of fuel which can be replenished in 10 minutes at hydrogen filling station. According to the company, she has created a full-scale functional prototype that will make its first flight “soon”.
It will not be the first aircraft on hydrogen fuel cells; Boeing did so in 2008. But it will be the first of its kind. Box configuration Skai has an aerodynamic appearance, like the prototypes from Lilium, Bell, and Yes, Boeing. The top speed is only 224 km/h, while other concepts eVTOL (electric vehicles vertical takeoff and landing) promise speeds of up to 270 km/h. Skai was designed more for efficiency which is more important than maximum speed, if carried out dozens of short hops every day.
“Our goal was to make it simple and we focus on creating certain images reusable repetition throughout the day,” says a veteran of NASA’s Bruce Holmes, included in the Board of Directors Alaka’i.
The argument in favor of fuel cells comes down to energy density: pound (almost a pound) of compressed hydrogen contains 200 times more energy than a pound of batteries, says the founder Alaka’i Brian Morrison. This means that Skai can meet the requirements for speed, range and capacity, which, in the opinion Alaka’i will make it competitive, while allowing to save much weight is a primary consideration for everything that flies.the company did not disclose the specifics of the power system, she States that it and its supplier of fuel cell (also not disclosed) managed to make a breakthrough in technology, providing the desired performance.
Hydrogen fuel cells prove its ability to significantly improve the performance of transport systems: some small unmanned aerial vehicles moved from 30-45 minutes of work on battery up to 2-4 hours of work with fuel cells, says Thomas Valdez, chemical engineer at Teledyne Energy Systems. And they offer the advantages of safety, eliminating the risk of thermal runaway of the battery. Even punched a tank is not a problem. “Under the pressure of the hydrogen will quickly dissipate into the air, therefore, will not accumulate or catch fire, as conventional fuels,” says Valdes.
Of course, as with all startups related to air taxi, Skai is a lot of problems. Chief among them is ensuring the timely receipt of the FAA certificate, which is not guaranteed considering the installation of a new propulsion system in the apparatus of a new type. Holmes believes that they will help a simple design.
“We have much fewer spare parts than traditional aircraft and half the requirements that must review the FAA,” he says. Skai have no tail rotor, and a ballistic parachute means that you won’t need to rely on auto-rotate to a safe landing if you fall off the power. The six screws that produce 450 horsepower, are in a fixed position and do not turn in front of the vertical or horizontal takeoff.
To cope with this problem, i Alaka’plans to skip the service air taxi at an early stage, focusing instead on the emergency services, search and rescue missions and transporting cargo. These roles do not require the same certification standards, and passenger flights. An extremely optimistic rating from Holmes: certification is just a few months (and will be completed by the end of 2020) instead of the standard five to ten years.
Hydrogen, of course, there is a disadvantage, namely the fact that it is not so much around. The lack of refuelling infrastructure hinders the work of ground vehicles operating on hydrogen, but aircraft can be easier. Instead of having to rely on a gas station on every corner, the aircraft can have a more centralized fueling centers supplied by tankers.
Another potential obstacle may be the cost of equipment.
“Hydrogen fuel cells used in spacecraft for quite some time. This is a proven technology,” said Charles Eastlake, Professor Emeritus of aerospace engineering at the University of aviation them. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical. “But it prevents the cost”.
He noted that the project of creation of electric aircraft, which the University undertook in 2011 included the fuel cell, which would cost $ 250,000 on the open market, and all this to power a relatively small 40-horsepower electric motor.the technology since then has only improved, and the cost falls, it falls not much, given that most of the dollars going to R & d goes to the batteries.
Alaka’i said that the first will be launched first airplane, and then implemented a highly automated and fully Autonomous mode. Startup focused on price around $ 200,000,the first models are likely to be much more expensive. Production will be approximately 10,000 per year. This is a huge number, none of the manufacturers does not produce more than 700 aircraft.
Eventually Alaka’i want to create a version accessible to all citizens, only in the price category as luxury cars. The key difference, of course, will be that these cars can fly.