Advances in engine systems have increased flight efficiency over the last few decades, but dependence on fossil fuels means that aircraft continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
To solve this problem, NASA, together with specialists from the University of Illinois, proposes the idea of using sustainable energy sources instead of fossil fuels for commercial aircraft, with a view to the introduction of cryogenic hydrogen.
The Center for High Efficiency Cryogenic Electric Technologies for Aircraft (CHEETA) will investigate the technology needed to produce a practical all-electric design to replace conventional fossil fuel propulsion systems. Although the project is still in its conceptual stage, and there are still several technical hurdles to overcome, researchers have a firm vision of the technology and its potential.
Basically, the program focuses on the development of an all-electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as a method of energy storage.
The chemical energy of hydrogen is converted into electrical energy through a series of fuel cells, which power the ultra-efficient electric propulsion system. The low temperature requirements of the hydrogen system also provide the opportunity to use superconducting or lossless power transmission.
The CHEETA project is a consortium of eight institutions including the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Research and Technology, General Electric Global Research, Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Arkansas, University of Dayton Research Institute and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.