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Performance Characteristics of an Electrochemically Powered Turboprop: A Comparison with State of the Art Gas Turbines
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As we search for alternative fuels and energy efficient vehicles it is important to consider the role of electrochemical fuel cells in aircraft propulsion systems. This paper focuses on this issue with regards to small turboprop aircraft. An electrochemical propulsion system would employ liquid hydrogen in an air breathing fuel cell that would generate electricity to run electric motors which in tum power the props. The major question this paper addresses is: under what conditions will a hydrogen/fuel cell power system be superior to a state of the art hydrogen/gas turbine power system? The systems are compared on a fuel consumption basis, a cost basis, and a reliability/ maintainability basis. The analysis show that both specific power and efficiency play an important role in determining which configuration uses less fuel. In general, the fuel cell system is heavier but more efficient than the gas turbine. It appears that the fuel cell system will begin to compete with the gas turbine as the power densities surpass 1 kw/kg and the efficiencies approaches .45. From a cost perspective gas turbines presently cost $500/ Kw and fuel cells are far more expensive. However, the raw materials in a fuel cell are inexpensive and could conceivably be cheaper, thus making the fuel cells increasingly attractive. From a reliability perspective, the fuel cell system appears to have a significant advantage due to the lack of moving parts and the high reliability of electric motors.
Johnson, M. C.; Swan, D. H. (1993). Performance Characteristics of an Electrochemically Powered Turboprop: A Comparison with State of the Art Gas Turbines. Energy Systems Laboratory (http://esl.eslwin.tamu.edu). Available electronically from