Piasecki Aircraft Gains SBIR Award from DOE “to Evaluate Feasibility of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power for AAM Rotorcraft”

Piasec­ki Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion (PiAC) announced this week, it has been award­ed a Small Busi­ness Inno­va­tion Research (SBIR) con­tract by the Depart­ment of Ener­gy (DOE) to eval­u­ate the fea­si­bil­i­ty of Hydro­gen Fuel Cells for pow­er­ing Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty (AAM) rotor­craft, reports a press release. 

The study is focused on the fea­si­bil­i­ty of using hydro­gen fuel cells as a pow­er source for VTOL vehi­cles. The com­pa­ny has already com­plet­ed the first phase of this mul­ti­phase pro­gram and is on track to begin the sec­ond lat­er this year.

The release explains, “The SBIR pro­gram requires Piasec­ki to con­duct a tech­ni­cal eco­nom­ic analy­sis (TEA), devel­op con­cep­tu­al and pre­lim­i­nary designs, and ulti­mate­ly devel­op and test a hydro­gen fuel cell pow­ered VTOL UAM air­craft at scale. The first stage com­pares hydro­gen tech­nol­o­gy to com­pa­ra­ble inter­nal com­bus­tion engine and bat­tery rotor­craft to deter­mine key met­rics such as mis­sion per­for­mance, Green­house Gas­es (GHGs) abate­ment poten­tial, total cost of own­er­ship and tech­nol­o­gy readi­ness lev­el.”

The ini­tial study car­ried out offered a detailed com­par­i­son between a base­line inter­nal com­bus­tion Robin­son R44 heli­copter and three vari­ants:-

: Hydro­gen fuel cell propul­sion with gaseous hydro­gen.

: Hydro­gen fuel cell propul­sion with liq­uid hydro­gen.

: Bat­tery-pow­ered propul­sion. 

John Piasec­ki

Using the DOE’s Tech­no-eco­nom­ic Ener­gy & Car­bon Heuris­tic Tool for Ear­ly-Stage Tech­nolo­gies (TECHTEST), the study showed “that hydro­gen fuel cell and bat­tery vari­ants have neg­li­gi­ble GHG emis­sions dur­ing use and that all vari­ants abate more than 1,300 tons of GHG emis­sions over five years com­pared to the R44 pow­ered by an inter­nal com­bus­tion engine con­duct­ing the same UAM air taxi mis­sion,” con­tin­ues the release.

John Piasec­ki, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Piasec­ki Air­craft, com­ment­ed, ”The Depart­ment of Energy’s request for this ground­break­ing study under­scores the urgent need for inno­v­a­tive, afford­able zero-car­bon ver­ti­cal mobil­i­ty solu­tions to reduce traf­fic con­ges­tion in urban areas, and vehic­u­lar green­house gasses.” 

He con­tin­ued, ”The results of our ini­tial study rein­force the poten­tial for hydro­gen fuel cells to dis­rupt the USD40 bil­lion light heli­copter replace­ment mar­ket and con­tribute to the growth of the emerg­ing air taxi indus­try. We are com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing and demon­strat­ing inno­v­a­tive, sus­tain­able solu­tions for the avi­a­tion indus­try.”

Oper­a­tional effi­cien­cy is vital for UAM, where the abil­i­ty to sup­port high util­i­sa­tion rates at required mis­sion dis­tances with­out refu­elling can sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve ser­vice offer­ings and eco­nom­ic via­bil­i­ty. 

The study found that the liq­uid hydro­gen fuel cell vari­ant offered the best per­for­mance of the three vari­ants:-

Please Watch Video

Supe­ri­or range: The liq­uid hydro­gen vari­ant matched the range of the inter­nal com­bus­tion vari­ant (270 nau­ti­cal miles) and demon­strat­ed supe­ri­or range com­pared with the gaseous hydro­gen and bat­tery vari­ants.

Less refu­el­ing: The high spe­cif­ic pow­er of the High Tem­per­a­ture Pro­ton Exchange Mem­brane (HTPEM) hydro­gen fuel cells, cou­pled with the high ener­gy den­si­ty achiev­able with liq­uid hydro­gen, allowed the liq­uid hydro­gen vari­ant to com­plete up to five 50-nau­ti­cal mile sor­ties before refu­elling, com­pared with less than two sor­ties for the gaseous hydro­gen vari­ant. The bat­tery pow­ered vari­ant was not able to meet the min­i­mum per­for­mance required by DoE’s nom­i­nal UAM mis­sion pro­file with­out stop­ping to recharge.

Reduced oper­at­ing costs: The low­ered direct oper­at­ing cost of both hydro­gen fuel vari­ants allowed for the recoup­ment of mar­gin­al addi­tion­al acqui­si­tion cost over the ICE vari­ant: one to four years for the liq­uid and gaseous hydro­gen vari­ants, respec­tive­ly. The bat­tery pow­ered vari­ant, while suit­able for short­er range mis­sions, was nev­er able to recov­er its acqui­si­tion cost pre­mi­um, due to the lim­it­ed cycle life of bat­ter­ies when sub­ject­ed to high dis­charge and recharge rates required by the VTOL UAM flight spec­trum.

The U.S is work­ing to devel­op a hydro­gen infra­struc­ture that will be key to the coun­try’s long-term ener­gy secu­ri­ty and tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fuels. In Octo­ber, the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion and the DOE announced USD7 bil­lion to launch the country’s first clean hydro­gen hubs and pro­mote the devel­op­ment of a hydro­gen infra­struc­ture net­work that will pro­vide clean, renew­able ener­gy to pow­er homes, busi­ness­es and trans­porta­tion net­works.

The Work­ings of a Hydro­gen Fuel Cell (Cred­it: www.3m.com)


Piasec­ki recent­ly announced a USD37 mil­lion STRATFI con­tract with the USAF to accel­er­ate devel­op­ment of HTPEM hydro­gen fuel cell propul­sion sys­tem for its forth­com­ing PA-890 Slowed Rotor Com­pound Heli­copter. 

In part­ner­ship with ZeroAvia, Piasec­ki is to devel­op and test HTPEM hydro­gen fuel cells for VTOL appli­ca­tions, includ­ing a HAXEL proof-of-con­cept flight demon­stra­tor and a full scale 660kW HTPEM hydro­gen fuel cell propul­sion test stand for the PA-890. Last year, Piasec­ki acquired a 219,000 square foot state-of-the-art heli­copter man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ty from Lock­heed Mar­tin Siko­rsky in Coatesville, Penn­syl­va­nia, where it plans to assem­ble the PA-890.

For more infor­ma­tion


(Top image: Piasec­ki)

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