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ARPA-E to award up to $55M in two programs to support electric aviation

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced up to $55 million in funding for two programs to support the development of low-cost electric aviation engine technology and powertrain systems.

Research on Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives (ASCEND) and Range Extenders for Electric Aviation with Low Carbon and High Efficiency (REEACH) programs seek to develop commercial-class electric aviation energy technology solutions with the goal of mitigating the emissions caused by passenger aircraft.

  • The ASCEND program supports the development of innovative lightweight and ultra-efficient electric motors, drives, and associated thermal management systems (collectively referred to as the all-electric powertrain) that will help enable net-zero carbon emissions in single-aisle, 150-200 passenger commercial aircraft, such as the Boeing 737.

    The ASCEND program sets a benchmark of the fully integrated all-electric powertrain system at a power density of ≥ 12 kW/kg with an efficiency at ≥ 93%. Currently, these targets, among others, are beyond the capability of state-of-the-art technologies and will require creative thinking and innovation in the electric motor and power electronics space.

    The ASCEND performers will work in two phases, delivering the conceptual designs and computer simulations of the motor, its drive, and their integration, as well as subsystem/component level demonstrations for the proposed key enabling technologies to support the performance projections in Phase I. Phase I will be 18 months long.

    Phase II will bring the development, fabrication, and testing of an integrated sub-scale all-electric powertrain (≥ 250 kW), including its thermal management system. (Successful projects may proceed to Phase II subject to budgetary restrictions.)

  • The REEACH program objective is to develop a disruptive system to convert the chemical energy contained in energy-dense carbon neutral liquid fuels (CNLFs) into electric power for aircraft propulsion via electric powertrains and other key systems.

    With a developmental prototype as the ultimate goal, REEACH performers will work to create innovative, cost-effective and high-performance energy storage and power generation (ESPG) sub-systems. The developed ESPG system must deliver adequate electric power to propel a fully electric, narrow-body aircraft through all the various flight phases (i.e., taxi, take-off, climb, cruise, and descent) and store sufficient energy to power the entire aircraft during a long-range mission with adequate safety reserves.

    The developed ESPG should be efficient and light enough to enable operations commensurate with existing commercial single-aisle aircraft missions. In the design of their ESPG systems, applicants are given latitude to select the CNLF, system architecture, and individual component technologies.

    REEACH will develop the critical enabling components and sub-system architectures for high-efficiency conversion of CNLF energy into electricity with sufficient power density for aircraft propulsion.

Both programs will develop technology for use in narrow-body, passenger aircraft.

Each year, air travel accounts for nearly 175 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the US, or about 2.6% of domestic GHG emissions. These programs represent ARPA-E’s first focused efforts on the development of more energy efficient, electric motor and powertrain systems for commercial aircraft, and awardees will be subject to a rigorous performance metrics review over the course of their funding cycles.

Cost of research will be funded with $55 million available through both of these electric aviation programs, up to $35 million will be available for through ASCEND and up to $20 million will be available in the REEACH program. A portion of funding in both programs will be made specifically available for qualifying small business applicants under ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.


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