Fuel cells provide backup electrical power for an Airbus A320

When we think of fuel cell technology, automobiles most often come to mind. Companies like Ford have showcased fuel cell prototypes for future deployments while General Motors is currently delivering production fuel cell vehicles to regular Americans.

Today’s development in fuel cell technology comes from an unlikely source: an aircraft manufacturer.

Airbus was able to use a hydrogen fuel cell -- developed in conjunction with Michelin -- to serve as a power source for an Airbus A320's backup hydraulic and electrical systems as well as the aircraft's ailerons. In its current iteration, the fuel cell provides 20 kW of power and produces water as a byproduct of regular operation.

Airbus says that the water generated from the fuel cell can be used for the aircraft's onboard water systems which would save weight. Weight would also be saved since less jet fuel would be required to power onboard electrical generators.

"Fuel cells offer tremendous potential environmental benefits and operational savings", said Patrick Gavin, Airbus' Executive Vice President of Engineering. "This is another example of Airbus providing leadership for an eco-efficient industry, one which creates value with less environmental impact."

Airbus hopes to further develop its fuel cell technology to replace the emergency power systems and Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). Replacing the APU with a fuel cell system would greatly reduce noise pollution which has become a growing problem with airports.

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