NASA awarding $6 million to 3-year ULI project to develop approach to electric aircraft fueled by liquid hydrogen
NASA will provide $6 million over the course of three years to support a University Leadership Initiative (ULI) project focused on the development of a fully electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as an energy storage method.
The Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft (CHEETA) project is led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The project includes participation from eight additional institutions: the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Research and Technology, General Electric Global Research, The Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arkansas, the University of Dayton Research Institute, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The hydrogen chemical energy is converted to electrical energy through a series of fuel cells, which drive the ultra-efficient electric propulsion system. The low temperature requirements of the hydrogen system also provide opportunities to use superconducting, or lossless, energy transmission and high-power motor systems.
It’s similar to how MRIs work, magnetic resonance imaging. However, these necessary electrical drivetrain systems do not yet exist, and the methods for integrating electrically driven propulsion technologies into an aircraft platform have not yet been effectively established. This program seeks to address this gap and make foundational contributions in technologies that will enable fully electric aircraft of the future.—Phillip Ansell, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Urbana-Champaign and principal investigator
The co-principal investigator on the project is Associate Professor Kiruba Haran in U of I’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Concept sketch of a fully electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as an energy storage method.
NASA ULI. NASA created ULI to initiate a new type of interaction between NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) and the university community, in which US universities take the lead, build their own teams, and set their own research path.
The award to the University of Illinois was one of three in the second round of ULI funding, which will provide a total of about $15 million over three years. The two other awards are:
Carnegie Mellon University. This team will explore new methods for using additive manufacturing to reduce costs and increase the speed of mass-producing aircraft without sacrificing quality, reliability and safety.
Key challenges faced are to come up with a scientifically sound basis for qualifying the 3D printed parts, as well as demonstrating that facilities for the efficient large-scale production of these parts can be designed and used.
University of Wisconsin, Madison. This team will explore new ways in which humans can use robotics to improve the efficiency and flexibility of aviation-related manufacturing processes in a manner that enhances the safety of human workers.
NASA ARMD will soon open ULI - Round 3.
H. D. Kim, A. T. Perry and P. J. Ansell, (2019) “A Review of Distributed Electric Propulsion Concepts for Air Vehicle Technology,” 2018 AIAA/IEEE Electric Aircraft Technologies Symposium (EATS), Cincinnati, OH, 2018, pp. 1-21.