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New Hydrogen Engine Test Shows Future of Aviation 184

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the put-it-in-a-car dept.
An anonymous reader writes to mention Boeing has successfully completed tests for the engine that will power HALE, the new prop plane that will be able to stay aloft for long periods of time. "The wünderengine, developed by the Ford Motor Company, went for three days under the simulated conditions of a 65,000-feet flight, which is definitely better than a Taurus and apparently exceeded their expectations on fuel economy. Chris Haddox at Boeing's Advanced Systems said that while it will be several years before HALE flies, the key to this aircraft is the propulsion system and this recent test was very promising."
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New Hydrogen Engine Test Shows Future of Aviation

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:04PM (#21105209) Homepage Journal
    What sort of mileage does a Taurus get at 65000 feet?
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:06PM (#21105227)
    The wünderengine, developed by the Ford Motor Company, went for three days under the simulated conditions of a 65,000-feet flight

    This must be why the average fuel economy of American cars continues to suck so much dirt, all of the engineers are working on high altitude aircraft engines for use in the upcoming (any day now) FLYING version of the Ford Taurus...yeah.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:07PM (#21105233) Homepage
    New Hydrogen Engine Test Shows Future of Aviation

    Oh, the humanity!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by GenP (686381)
      Well, the alternative was Sex Panther but that was rejected for obvious flammability and sexiness reasons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      While I did laugh, at that comment, let's remember that it's generally accepted now that the Hindenburg burned because of its highly flammable zinc skin, not because of the hydrogen fuel. In fact, hydrogen rises and evaporates so quickly that lives may have been saved because it didn't hang around and burn downward. A lot of people survived.
      • by Mattintosh (758112) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:53PM (#21105805)
        The skin wasn't zinc, and it wasn't zinc that caused it to burn.

        The skin was cotton, and they painted it with aluminum/iron-oxide paint. Basically, liquid thermite. Poof!

        From the Wikipedia entry:
        The duralumin frame was covered by cotton varnished with iron oxide and cellulose acetate butyrate impregnated with aluminium powder. The aluminum was added to reflect both ultraviolet, which damaged the fabric, and infrared light, which caused heating of the gas.

        The explosion happened when it was trying to land during an electric storm. The cotton panels were held to the frame with rope cords which were not painted with the same metal-saturated varnish as the panels themselves. When they dropped the grounding cable during the landing approach, all built-up static from the panels jumped to the frame, sparking the "thermite" varnish. The rest is history.

        And you're right about how the use of hydrogen likely saved lives.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by WheelDweller (108946)
          Just to add a little more, here...I've been told, though I've not had it confirmed ( I keep hoping to run across it somewhere) that Germany *had* to use hydrogen; the Allies, in part of the long pissing-contest that lead up to WW1, wouldn't let them have any helium. And you're right on the composition of the covering; I saw the same episode...and it makes good sense.

          Before the Duke was shot in his carriage, a lot of other things were involved, too; Germany had a pissing-contest over the 'new' concept of ba
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hardburn (141468)

            Germany *had* to use hydrogen; the Allies, in part of the long pissing-contest that lead up to WW1, wouldn't let them have any helium.

            True enough. The main way get helium is to extract it from natural gas emitted from oil fields [wikipedia.org], such as the ones in Texas. Thus, the United States is one of the few countries with an abundance of helium.

            They had asked the United States for helium, but the US feared that the Zeppelins would be converted for war (a legitimate concern, since Hitler was already in power and

          • I've been told, though I've not had it confirmed ( I keep hoping to run across it somewhere) that Germany *had* to use hydrogen

            Actually, I'm wondering why everybody's still so dead-set on using helium for lifting. It's twice as dense as hydrogen (0.18 kg/m^3 vs. 0.09 kg/m^3) and far less abundant. Sure hydrogen burns if you light it, but so does gasoline and that doesn't stop people from carrying gallons of it around wherever they go[0]. Not to mention that hydrogen (H2) atoms are larger than helium atoms, and therefore don't require exotic envelope materials to prevent the gas from escaping.

            [0] Fun fact: more people were injur

          • Just to add a little more, here...I've been told, though I've not had it confirmed ( I keep hoping to run across it somewhere) that Germany *had* to use hydrogen; the Allies, in part of the long pissing-contest that lead up to WW1, wouldn't let them have any helium.

            Loss of the Hindenberg, May 3, 1937.
            WWI, 1914-1918
             
            A little Googling about shows your other 'facts' to be equally suspect.
      • "A lot of people survived."

        More survived than died. IIRC, of the 100 or so people on board, only about 30 died. Almost all of the deaths were from jumping. When it caught fire, people panicked and jumped; the ground is what killed them. Almost everybody who rode the ship to the ground lived to tell their tale. It was a relatively slow and controlled crash, and the flames were all above the people and billowing upward. Try that with an jetliner.

        The reason the Hindenburg disaster is remembered so fer

      • The video looks like burning hydrogen to me.
  • by raddan (519638) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:09PM (#21105269)

    And despite its light appearance, the aircraft will be able to carry a 2,000-pound multi-sensor payload, plus a custom fender, flame stickers for an extra speed punch and/or synthetic leather finish.
    ... and say, a bomb.

    Hate to be the downer of the party, but that's the way our leaders think. Gain the "high ground."
    • by Sunburnt (890890) *

      And despite its light appearance, the aircraft will be able to carry a 2,000-pound multi-sensor payload, plus a custom fender, flame stickers for an extra speed punch and/or synthetic leather finish.

      ... and say, a bomb.

      You must be joking. Product diversification is the name of the game, and bombers sell for a lot more than prop-driven recon birds. Besides, carrying one Mk84 does not a bomber make.

  • Would've never guessed that fuel efficiency was prized more by military than civilian customers. Or is there some subsidy for "green" fuels in some Defense appropriations bill?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Radon360 (951529)

      Maybe it's a logistics thing. You can essentially produce hydrogen on-site from an electrical generation power source, say a nuclear reactor onboard an aircraft carrier. Instead of having a carrier resupplied with jet fuel, av-gas or whatever from a supply ship, they just make what they need onboard. Improved fuel efficiency then just helps sell the idea.

      Not saying that's the reason, just speculation on my part.

      • But also a strategic thing. Destroying every oil well in the US is easy, destroying every farm is not. That means the enemy can't destroy the fuel supply if it comes from farms.

        Besides, wars are won first and then started. You can never plan too much ahead, and oil is bound to run out eventually. Sure, it's many years away, but wars have been known to last for decades, even a century. It's a good idea to say to your enemies "our systems will last longer than any war you can throw at us; attrition is pointle
      • Just a wild guess here but at 65,000 feet it gets mighty cold, and most fuel get pretty thick when it gets mighty cold, but most aircraft don't stay up there long enough to let the insulated fuel tanks get cold. This aircraft on the other hand is going to stay up there a long time, so they would have to use engine heat to keep the fuel warm enough to pump, but engines that make a lot of waste heat aren't very efficient, and have a big IR signature! So the obvious answer is to use hydrogen which wouldn't gum
        • What is the efficiency of the most efficient fuel-to-mechanical energy conversion currently known to man? State-of-the-art internal combustion is somewhere in the 30-40% range, electric fuel cell may be around 50% with potential for 80% in the not too distant future, what else is there? Even at 90%, there would still be plenty of waste heat to keep hydrogen (or nearly any other fuel) at whatever desired temperature with minimal tank insulation.

          Since hydrogen boils at -252C, it would be impossible to pump it
      • All use Jet A1... Or near as damn it.

        Except motorcycles, and they developed one which would run on it for that reason.

         
      • by fluffy99 (870997)
        Which fits in very nicely with the Navys plans for an all-electric fleet in the future.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cussin_IT (1143215)
      Actualy, I think this has more to do with weight ratios. A vehicle with a highly efficent motor will go farther and require fewer support stops than with an inefficent motor, even though they (vehicle+fuel)weigh the same. For unmanned vhicles, this means fewer support personel on the ground being shot at, leading to fewer injurys. Honestly, if the milatary is going to work at something, fewer friendly injurys is a worthy goal.
  • by victorvodka (597971) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:14PM (#21105317) Homepage
    Hydrogen! Yay! It's everywhere - heck, water is 2/3rds Hydrogen - meaning it is safe and plentiful and when you burn it all you get is water! But then the question becomes: how does one go about making Hydrogen from water? At this point the answer is based soundly in the same thermodynamics that condemns us all to a second stone age: LOTS AND LOTS of energy, my friend, meaning hydrogen solves nothing. Hell, it's not even easy to store the corrosive stuff.
    • by benjfowler (239527) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:22PM (#21105445)
      It may not always be a major issue. Future generations of nuclear reactors [wikipedia.org] are likely to be designed specifically to operate at extremely high temperatures, good for producing enough process heat to thermochemically generate lots of hydrogen relatively cheaply.
    • But then the question becomes: how does one go about making Hydrogen from water? At this point the answer is based soundly in the same thermodynamics that condemns us all to a second stone age: LOTS AND LOTS of energy, my friend, meaning hydrogen solves nothing.

      Hydrogen power is the environmentally friendly codeword for nuclear power. It's a hoax and the greens are eating it up. Face it, it's just a fancy battery.

      Personally I think nukes are the way to go so I don't complain ... much.

      • Right now, I think most hydrogen fuel is acquired through reactions using fossil fuels.

        I wouldn't say that hydrogen's storage and transportation problems are insurmountable, it doesn't really have the same returns per volume and weight (when considering the entire storage unit) as other fuels. Coming up with better ways to burn it doesn't really help the other issues in the chain.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Given that their plans are all up in the air, it probably will never fly as a fuel source
    • Well, I'll leave off the obligatory DHMO link for once. But:

      heck, water is 2/3rds Hydrogen
      Water is significantly less than 2/3 Hydrogen -- much closer to 1/16 Hydrogen. I know you were joking, but this is important when we think about what to do with all the waste.

      For every 1 kilo of hydrogen used as fuel, we'll produce 16 kilos of solid waste! (It'll become solid quickly at those altitudes.)
      • by lachlan76 (770870)

        Only by mass. If you use molar quantities, it is 2/3 hydrogen.


        With regards to the waste part---you just need to keep the water hot enough to remain gaseous, which may be (I haven't done the calculations, so I'm not sure) easier at high altitudes. Combustion of hydrocarbons produces water too, remember.

      • yes solid waste that can just be dropped right into your drinking glass, i mean how do you think Doc Brown did it in BTF3?
    • by vertinox (846076)
      But then the question becomes: how does one go about making Hydrogen from water?

      Military Check list

      Step 1: Powersource - Nuclear Reactor on Aircraft carrier - check!
      Step 2: Electrolysis from water - We're on the ocean - check!
      Step 3: Tanks to store it on - Hey we could use this jet engine fuel storage - check!
    • Hydrogen is not and never has been a proposed solution for energy generation. It is a proposed solution for energy transport. Imagine the following scenario

      - We perfect launching payloads into space with hydrogen engines
      - We launch an orbital power power station that uses solar energy (at a much higher efficiency than we can get planet-side) to produce hydrogen from launched water payloads.
      - Periodically we launch up a water payload and bring down a hydrogen payload.

      There you go. Closed loop cycle for perfe
  • Great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:17PM (#21105367)
    How much energy does it take to produce the hydrogen?

    Hydrogen is not an energy source, it's an energy storage system, and not a very good one.

     
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      How much energy does it take to produce the hydrogen?

      While not the most efficient process imaginable, electrolysis will do it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water/ [wikipedia.org]. Some claim 50 - 70% efficiency. Your high school physics teacher should have been able to demonstrate it easily with supplies one could buy from a local hardware store.

      Though yes, ultimately it isn't the greatest solution, as of you'll never get back 100% of the energy you put in. So even once you obtain the hydrogen, and then combust it with atmospheric oxygen, there will b

      • by lgw (121541)
        If your powerplant is currently throwing away waste steam, then making hydrogen through steam electrolysis can be more than 100% efficient (in terms of the electrical energy added to the energy already in the steam).
    • Hydrocarbons are really also just an energy storage system.
      • Your bit of genius aptly neglects that fossil fuels store energy from ages ago. Not energy we have to generate or capture today.

        C//
        • by rhakka (224319)
          and your bit of genius neglects basic sustainability.

          Sure, we can exploit our lucky windfall of easily releasable energy until it runs out or becomes a lot less easy to release.

          But sooner or later, we run out. A sustainable form of energy is needed; maybe not tomorrow, but it is needed.

          The only source of energy on earth is the sun. That's a pretty good place to start.

          Beyond that, energy already stored in matter might be enough to buy us more time, but to be long term we'll probably need to figure out how
          • by lgw (121541)

            The only source of energy on earth is the sun. That's a pretty good place to start.
            Not true. Uranium is a good source of energy (technically that's stored energy from *another* star) and there's a lot of it. Hydrogen is the best source of energy, though of course fusion will be "20 years away" forever, so that's less helpful. Geothermal is also a non-solar energy source, but just doesn't scale, so it's decidedly unhelpful. The Uranium thing works well, though.
            • by rhakka (224319)
              but we don't have a source of uranium, we only have a storehouse of it. The only thing that brings a reliable input of energy to earth is the sun. If our usage of energy exceeds that which the sun can provide, then we are on a path towards energy depletion, which (depending on our rate of energy usage over that limit) will require either the mining of energy offplanet, or the reduction of energy usage on some time scale. Note I include energy to grow plants and such in that simplistic equation, not just
    • by multi io (640409)
      How much energy does it take to produce the hydrogen?

      That won't matter much anymore as soon as we have those portable 100GW cold fusion reactors available :-P

      Maybe it'll turn out to be easier to just keep the oil-combusting engines but re-implement photosynthesis using large-scale technology though!

    • How much energy does it take to produce the hydrogen?

      Assuming you get an efficiency of 50% for your Airplane, and an electrolytic conversion efficiency of about 60%-70%, then simple arithmetic would dictate that you get at best 35% of the energy you put into it as motion. In reality you spend a lot of energy transporting and storing it, so perhaps 10%-15% is a more reasonable estimate ( and yes, I'm somewhat pulling these numbers out of my ass ).

      HOWEVER, the thing to remember is that while hydrogen is not t

  • by Mutatis Mutandis (921530) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @05:24PM (#21105461)
    For aircraft developers, the advantage of hydrogen has always been that it delivers more energy per weight unit than traditional hydrocarbon fuels. The matching disadvantage is that because of its low density, it is much bulkier, so requires bigger and heavier fuel tanks. Temperature is also an issue with pro and cons. On the one hand, LH2 is very cold, so ice formation on the skin of the aircraft can be an issue. On the other hand, LH2 is still chemically stable at high temperatures that would turn fossil fuels into a nasty sludge, or even break down hydrocarbon molecules before they can be properly burned. All that always made LH2 a very suitable fuel for a big rocket or for the hypothetical Mach 4 space plane. Its use on a slow high-altitude UAV poses very different challenges.
  • The best thing about moving to a hydrogen fuel, is that it can be produced by all of our energy production. So when the fossil fuels run out, we can keep using our technology with the nuclear plants generating the gas, as well as the hydrogen and electric hybrids that look very promising. (Zeppelin jokes aside).

    Though for this to be a realistic goal, we (America) need to start building new plants now, to the scale of France. And funding fusion research as well wouldn't hurt. At this moment, Nuclear energy
    • by demachina (71715)
      There are 30+ nuclear power plants working their way through early design and regulatory paperwork in the U.S. It remains to be seen how many actually get built. The energy bill passed a year or two ago dangled 2 billion in government backed loans to build nuclear power plants. The nuke industry wants that to be upped to $60 billion. The big nuke companies, GE and the big power companies, are liking the idea but they want the American tax payer to give them all the capital to build them for basically no
      • by Upaut (670171)
        The other problem is the U.S. doesn't exactly have a permanent place to dump all the nuclear waste already in temporary storage unless Yucca Mountain gets going. There is already 77,000 tons of spent fuel in temporary storage, all of which has to be shipped to Yucca mountain.

        Correction, partially spent fuel. America does not reprocess its fuel. If we did that, we would reduce the amount significantly. And the resultant waste would not only be "hotter", reducing alot faster, but it could theoretically be u
      • by dbIII (701233)

        The other problem is the U.S. doesn't exactly have a permanent place to dump all the nuclear waste already in temporary storage unless

        There are negotiations with Australia going on at the moment over the idea of shipping the lot there. Currently it looks like a pretty raw deal with nothing but economic costs for Australia and no other benefits apart from extra goodwill. Yukka Mountain has problems with water leaching in the current facility.

    • by Sunburnt (890890)

      Though for this to be a realistic goal, we (America) need to start building new plants now, to the scale of France .

      It's a good idea, but don't phrase it like that in public, or you'll find sizable grassroots political opposition. I mean, France? Don't they just eat cheese and surrender?

      Now, if you translate the gains into "hours of porn surfing/Xbox usage," you'll get your votes.

  • You know what other aircraft was hydrogen powered? THE HINDENBURG! *hides under the desk*
  • Hydrogen fueled engine in the stratosphere for days at a time, eh?

    So we're talking injecting tons of water vapor into the stratosphere - where it can produce long-lasting high-altitude clouds.

    They'd be thin. But they'd do a DANDY job of reflecting sunlight.

    Cloud reflectivity is a FAR greater forcing function of temperature than greenhouse gas.

    So use of this plane could cause significant (wait for it) ...

    GLOBAL COOLING!

    Ice ages! Oh, Horrors!
  • TFA is light on details. You might be interested to know that this is a hydrogen-burning internal combustion engine, not a hydrogen fuel cell.

    BMW has also been developing hydrogen ("Wasserstoff") burning internal combustion engines: http://www.autobloggreen.com/2006/09/12/bmw-officially-announces-the-bmw-hydrogen-7 [autobloggreen.com]

    Due to the sky-high price of fuel cells, the good ol' internal combustion engine might turn out to be the most practical way to use hydrogen fuel, for the forseeable future.
    • What's curious is that a year ago AeroVironment initially announced this aircraft to be Fuel Cell powered, but apparently they've backed off and are going for high-efficiency I.C.E. instead.

      BTM
  • 65,000-feet flight, which is definitely better than a Taurus...

    Heck, I'm surprised a Taurus can go 12 miles without a breakdown...

    Because we all know that FORD stands for Found On Road Dead.

    (Ducks!)

    Thanks, folks, I'll be here all day...

    • by Vegeta99 (219501)
      Hi there. Daily Ford driver here.

      My '95 Ford T-Bird has 148,000 miles on it with exactly ZERO engine problems. The powertrain is as reliable as can be.

      However,
      -The defroster now frosts the windows (heater core is junk and steams up the inside of the window, which then freezes on the windshield).
      -The automatic lights are only intermittently automatic.
      -The intermittent wipers are only intermittently intermittent.
      -In certain conditions, starting the engine means starting the engine, letting it stall out (kinda
      • Ford Deluxe Option package A: Assorted Squeaks and Rattles.

        Interestingly, 1995 was the last year Ford offered Deluxe Option package A as a standalone option. Subsequent years included bundled option packages such as:

        • 1998 - 2001 Firestone crash-and-burn tire blowout package. Originally marketed with the James Bond Edition Explorer.
        • 1989 - 1999 Red Hot Mustang - this option gave drivers that "classic car" experience by causing their engine to overheat in heavy traffic on hot afternoons. Commonly bund
      • by karnal (22275)
        I've got a 99 grand marquis that just went over 100k. Fine little car (okay, large car, but not a bad daily driver. Nice and smooth...)
        In order of your issues:
        1. Probably need to replace that heater core - got a leak anywhere?
        4. Idle air control valve is bad on your car - replace it and your car will start reliably every morning.
        5. Ford seems to be crappy about their electronics (see 2 and 3 as well) - I always thought my alternator was faulty on this one, but confirmed that this happens on 2 other cro
    • by jamrock (863246)

      Because we all know that FORD stands for Found On Road Dead.
      I thought it meant Fix Or Repair Daily.
    • by tgrigsby (164308)
      As an expert on Ford's quality and customer relations record, allow me to offer, for your perusal, the Anti-Ford Page [antiford.com]. What started off as my little rant against the 1987 Ford Escort and the service I received during its 7 recalls and innumerable breakdowns quickly turned into a sounding board for people who started sending me emails about their own experiences with the low quality products and horrible treatment they received from Ford.

      So now that Ford has created a hydrogen-powered engine for Boeing, I h
  • The Zephir SOLAR plane could perform WAY better than those few days:
    http://www.qinetiq.com/home/newsroom/news_releases_homepage/2006/3rd_quarter/QinetiQ_s_Zephyr_UAV_achieves_flight_record.html [qinetiq.com]

    The aircraft uses a combination of solar array and rechargeable batteries and, when fully developed, is expected to operate for months at a time at an altitude above 50,000 feet

    But i wonder if combining solar with hydrogen would be possible for such projects.

  • It's fine trying to sound suave and all, but it kinda breaks the illusion when you mix in "röckdöts". Or maybe, just maybe, that wasn't on purpose?

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