General Motors
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GM Co-Developing Hydrogen Fuel-Cell for Aircraft

June 20, 2021
A project with Liebherr-Aerospace will apply GM’s Hydrotec fuel-cell systems and controls for an integrated system, customized to performance and economic requirements of commercial aircraft.

General Motors agreed to co-develop hydrogen-based electrical power-generation system for aircraft with Liebherr-Aerospace, based on GM’s Hydrotec hydrogen fuel cell technology. They seek to develop an integrated system, customized to the performance and economic requirements of commercial aircraft.

“The change from the conventional to a hydrogen technology-based electrical power generation system means major systems modifications on board the aircraft that could result in better, more efficient performance of the plane. This we want to prove and test thoroughly,” according to Francis Carla, managing director and CTO, Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS.

Liebherr Aerospace is the aerospace equipment manufacturing division of Liebherr.

It’s the second agreement based on the Hydrotec package that GM has announced in the space of a week, following a Memo of Understanding to co-develop and commercialize Hydrotec hydrogen-fuel cell technologies to power Wabtec locomotives.

The Hydrotec technology involves an assembly of compact fuel cells, or “power cubes,” that may be used to fuel a range of applications. For example, GM is supplying Hydrotec fuel cells to Nikola Corp., a start-up that aims to produce “zero-emission” heavy-duty (Class 7/8) commercial vehicles.

Each Hydrotec power cube contains over 300 hydrogen fuel cells along with thermal and power management systems. The power cubes are compact and easy to package and can be used in a range of applications.

In the Liebherr project, the partners aim to develop an integrated system, customized to the performance and economic requirements of commercial aircraft. They will build and test a demonstrator for the system in a specialized laboratory for multi-system, integrated testing at Liebherr-Aerospace in Toulouse (France).

The demonstrator will incorporate GM’s hydrogen fuel cells, Hydrotec power cube, and fuel cell system, along with the GM’s controls and models.

“Aircraft are a great litmus test for the strength and versatility of our Hydrotec fuel cells,” stated Charlie Freese, executive director – Global Hydrotec. “Our technology can address customer needs in a wide range of uses - on land, sea, air or rail, and this collaboration with Liebherr could open up new possibilities for aircraft, transitioning to alternative energy power sources.”