Giants aim at developing electric aircraft by 2020
Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens team up to make a hybrid engine
1 December, 2017
Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens have created a joint venture aimed at developing a hybrid electric engine for aircraft, news wires reported. The programme, called the E-Fan X, plans to fly by 2020 a demonstrator aircraft, after provisional ground tests on a BAe 146 aircraft, with one of the aircraft's four gas turbine engines replaced by a 2MW electric motor. The venture is a part of the race to advance battery technology and introduce electric motors in aircraft in order to lower flying costs and move away from fossil fuels, Reuters commented.
“The E-Fan X is an important next step in our goal of making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future. The lessons we learned from a long history of electric flight demonstrators, starting with the Cri-Cri, and culminating most recently with the E-Fan 1.2, as well as the E-Aircraft Systems House collaboration with Siemens, will pave the way to a hybrid single-aisle commercial aircraft that is safe, efficient, and cost-effective. We see hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology for the future of aviation,” Airbus Chief Technology Officer Paul Eremenko said.
The E-Fan X demonstrator will explore the challenges of high-power propulsion systems, such as thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems and electromagnetic compatibility issues. As part of the programme, Airbus will be responsible for overall integration as well as the control architecture of the hybrid-electric propulsion system and batteries, and its integration with flight controls. Rolls-Royce will be responsible for the turbo-shaft engine, 2MW generator and power electronics, and along with Airbus, it will also work on the fan adaptation to the existing nacelle and the Siemens electric motor. Siemens will deliver the 2MW electric motors and their power electronic control unit, plus the inverter, DC/DC converter, and power distribution system.
“The E-Fan X enables us to build on our wealth of electrical expertise to revolutionise flight and welcome in the third generation of aviation. This is an exciting time for us as this technological advancement will result in Rolls-Royce creating the world’s most powerful flying generator,” Rolls-Royce CTO Paul Stein said. Among the top challenges for the aviation sector is to move towards a means of transport with improved environmental performance that is more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.
The partners say they are committed to meeting the EU technical environmental goals of the European Commission's Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation (reduction of CO2 by 60%, NOx by 90%, and noise reduction by 75%, all based on 2000 levels) but the targets will be difficult to achieve with current technologies. However, electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems are considered promising for addressing such challenges, and Mark Cousin, head of demonstrators at Airbus, believes double digit fuel economy savings could be made with the new configuration.