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Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens partner on hybrid-electric aircraft; E-Fan X series hybrid to fly in 2020

Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens have formed a partnership to develop a near-term hybrid-electric flight demonstrator for commercial aircraft. The partners expect the E-Fan X series-hybrid-electric technology demonstrator to fly in 2020 following a ground test campaign, provisionally on a BAe 146 flying testbed, with one of the aircraft’s four gas turbine engines replaced by a 2MW electric motor. Provisions will be made to replace a second gas turbine with an electric motor once system maturity has been proven.

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. The objective is to push and mature the technology, performance, safety and reliability enabling quick progress on the hybrid electric technology. The program also aims at establishing the requirements for future certification of electrically powered aircraft while training a new generation of designers and engineers to bring hybrid-electric commercial aircraft one step closer to reality.

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In the E-Fan X, the electric propulsion system obtains its power from a generator that is powered by a turbine in the fuselage. Take-off and climbing will be supported by lithium-ion batteries, each of which will have 700 kW of power. Copyright: Airbus. Click to enlarge.

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, including the e-Genius, E-Star, and culminating most recently with the E-Fan 1.2, as well as the fruits of 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.

—Paul Eremenko, Airbus Chief Technology Officer

  • 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, two megawatt generator, and power electronics. Along with Airbus, Rolls-Royce will also work on the fan adaptation to the existing nacelle and the Siemens electric motor.

  • Siemens will deliver the two megawatt electric motors and their power electronic control unit, as well as the inverter, DC/DC converter, and power distribution system. This comes on top of the E-Aircraft Systems House collaboration between Airbus and Siemens, launched in 2016, which aims at development and maturation of various electric propulsion system components and their terrestrial demonstration across various power classes.

Among the top challenges for today’s 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 are committed to meeting the EU technical environmental goals of the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation (reduction of CO2 by 75%, reduction of NOx by 90% and noise reduction by 65%). These cannot be achieved with the technologies existing today. Therefore, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are investing in and focusing research work in different technology areas including electrification. Electric and hybrid-electric propulsion are seen today as among the most promising technologies for addressing these challenges.

Comments

Lad

Boeing better also be developing electric airliners or they will be left behind.

I see a future airline hybrid using on-board hydrogen fuel cells generating electricity that drive ducted electric fans. Additionally, the fans are gimbaled to allow for trust vectoring which eliminates control surface drag; the hydrogen will be created by electrolysis, not from fossil fuels.

Further in the future, I see aircraft only used to transport people between continents. Hyperhoops will be used for point to point transportation within continents.

CheeseEater88

CO2 reduced by 75% is mind boggling. Hopefully that figure factors in renewables.

I think Boeings approach is to use renewables. I don't know the efficiencies of the electric turbine versus a liquid fuel powered one, but here on the ground turbines do pretty well.

This is where hydrogen would have to be in order to make a dent. Even our lightest batteries might be too heavy. Especially international flights.

I don't know how the reliability would play out for the electric motors. If they aren't using air bearings, it could be less reliable.

Well let's hope this project figures all of this out.

CheeseEater88

Doing some quick searches, people on the internet seem to believe we would need 90mw of thrust in applications such as the 747 for takeoff.

Which seems near impossible for electric. Maybe, they would launch with two fuel engines, and switch to two cruising electric engines. But then, the cargo capacity would drop.

I think the 747 is alleged to use 5gals of fuel per mile. Which when you're flying so many people and things does fairly well compared to cars. But yeah, that's a lot of energy.

I don't know if we'll see hydrogen planes after all. Maybe for onboard power, but nothing to power external engines.

Arnold

@C.E.
"I think Boeings approach is to use renewables."

I think that people who think extracting fossil fuels will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

The question is will history be viable in a world that doesn't include a habitable planet?
Will the scientific community be able to bring reason to the fore in time to avert a total train wreck.

CheeseEater88

That's the funny thing about history right? We get to choose what we remember.

It's amazing what we learn to be true.

Indefensible actions become defendable, or vise versa.

If things are as dire as everyone says, i mean i think we hit the irreversible threshold years ago according to scientists, and that's with just mans input not these recent natural events like volcanoes, we should just ration off everything, limit who gets to own cars, have air conditioners, etc. It's going to take that, and a show of force to make people comply.

Engineer-Poet

For short-range flights you can burn ammonia in lieu of carbon-based fuels.  It only has about 40% of the energy content per weight of jet-A but if you aren't hitting full gross that likely doesn't matter so much.

For increasing ranges you can incorporate larger amounts of liquid methane.  Methane has less carbon per unit energy than jet-A so will always have lower CO2 emissions.

For the ultimate in low-CO2 flight, beaming microwave power to the airplane not only gets rid of the fuel, it gets rid of the need to carry the powerplant.

HarveyD

With up to 100,000+ aircraft/drones flying around, how many ground microwave TX stations would be required to avoid unwanted disastrous flight termination?

What would be the total long term effects on birds/other flying objects and environment?

Improved much lighter/cheaper (5X to 10X) batteries and improved lighter/cheaper FCs may have better potential? Both air and ground transportation would benefit.

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