Airbus Teams With Rolls-Royce For Electric Airplane

JAN 17 2018 BY MARK KANE 26

Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens team up to develop E-Fan X hybrid-electric flight demonstrator in 2020 using BAe 146 as a flying testbed.

In the first step, the aircraft will be equipped with one electric motor (2 MW) that will replace one of the four gas turbine engines. It will be powered from the 2 MW generator and 2 MW battery pack (the capacity wasn’t disclosed).

In the second stage, the second engine will be replaced with an electric motor, but still the demonstrator will have two gas turbine engines.

We’re not sure if we’ll ever see a plug-in hybrid commercial project like this (with electric-only motors) actually become a thing, but maybe the aircraft industry will see a breakthrough entrant like (Tesla did in the automotive industry) and embrace electric flight.

“The three companies together announced the groundbreaking collaboration, bringing together some of the world’s foremost experts in electrical and propulsion technologies, at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.

The E-Fan X hybrid-electric technology demonstrator is anticipated to fly in 2020 following a comprehensive ground test campaign, provisionally on a BAe 146 flying testbed, with one of the aircraft’s four gas turbine engines replaced by a two megawatt 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 programme 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.

As part of the E-Fan X programme, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens will each contribute with their extensive experience and know-how in their respective fields of expertise:

–       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 demonstraion across various power classes.”

Paul Eremenko, Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer said:

“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 Stein, Rolls-Royce, Chief Technology Officer, said:

“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.”

Roland Busch, Chief Technology Officer of Siemens said:

“Siemens has been driving innovation in core technology fields at full speed. In April 2016 we opened a new chapter in electric-mobility with the collaboration with Airbus. Building up electric propulsion for aircraft, we are creating new perspectives for our company and also for our customers and society. With the E-Fan X partnership, we now take the next step to demonstrate the technology in the air.”

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26 Comments on "Airbus Teams With Rolls-Royce For Electric Airplane"

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A plane with 4 engines (each smaller than the regular 2 gas engines) where 2 are gas and operate for the full flight, the other two are electric with just enough battery capacity to takeoff and push hard up to cruising altitude might be a real sweet spot for a hybrid jet.

exactly what i was thinking.

The turbines are for take off and climbing, the motors are for cruise at altitude. Power them with fuel cells run on reformed jet fuel.

Thhat’s what I was thinking as CO2 exhaust at high altitudes is much worse than at sea level.
I hope we get advances in light weight capacitors that could give efficient bursts of power for takeoff also.

Why would carbon dioxide cause more problems at higher altitudes? I really don’t see that. Although, with water vapor, another product of combustion, that’s certainly true.

I don’t understand where either saving is coming from anyhow. Most of the electricity is being generated in flight with its associated emissions. So, it might be a little more efficient but it doesn’t look like a large difference.

Up to 25% of the fuel for a flight is used for takeoff. So if you offset most of that with an electric motor that got it’s energy from a plug while loading, then you offset fuel consumption and the associated emmissions.

By running smaller motors, there may be savings during the flight also.

The challenge with all-electric flight is the weight of the batteries, which will improve over time so the hybrid ratio can can change with it.

The aircraft and trucking industries are different than the car industry because they won’t put out the effort to create working prototypes for technology that they don’t believe is worth producing just to manipulate public perceptions. If they’ve gone this far, they’re serious.

Was it only months ago that even the non-trolls at sites like this dismissed aircraft electrification as a marginal goal for tiny companies producing motorized gliders and training planes? Whoops, that was me.

I disagree with part of this. I was at Airventure and watched the E-Fan presentation. It seemed pretty clear to me that the original E-Fan was an expensive prototype they weren’t going to persue. I think they will do something with the large scale stuff, but not with the small scale. The way they set their stuff up to hand out materials and the way they performed their presentation felt like it was for an empty press release where they took pictures of themselves while presented. It felt like pure PR with no real effort backing the project (dog & pony), similar to car manufacturers that have released compliance cars. In their case, it felt like it was to try to appease investors and find venture capital. ..not to say that I’m against that.

I felt like the true electric efforts in the small market is coming from Pipstrel.

It’s all R&D and PR until there’s a final product.

But the research in electrification is very real. Efficiency and noise reduction are both of great value in aviation.

This is very typical for aircraft engine development to prove out concepts. After thousands of test flight hours, they can get a secure sense of the capabilities and reliability. Then they can do one with all electric motors with a dedicated gas turbine for charging batteries.

2 engines on left side and 1 engine + 1 motor on right side, that does not sound right.

Airplanes should have synchronous distribution. May be it can have 1 engine + 1 motor on right and 1 engine + 1 motor on left. That way the weight will be more balanced.

Chinese company has already designed small airplane with 4 passenger capacity for short range, slowly they will build larger airplanes for longer ranges.

Better Boeing also joins in.

Don, have you never saw 4 engine jets with 1 big engine swapped in for testing, before? It happens a lot! This is similar!

I’ll say this:

Making a light-weight airplane with one or two 2,700 horsepower motors in them along with batteries and electronics, as well as a recharging generator is impressive.

They certainly have their work cut out for them.

But I think before we see any huge adoption of this, batteries will have to get much lighter.

It’s not an issue when the batteries are just used as a small buffer.

With natural gas as the energy source planes will be significantly less polluting than today. And since electric motors have much higher power to weight ratios, are more reliable, require less maintenance, and basically don’t wear out, it seems quite plausible they can improve the economics of flight as well.

Aluminum Storage Breakthrough Hydrogen Economy now possible
The accidental discovery of a novel aluminum alloy that reacts with water in a highly unusual way may be the first step to reviving the struggling hydrogen economy. It could offer a convenient and portable source of hydrogen for fuel cells and other applications, potentially transforming the energy market and providing an alternative to batteries and liquid fuels.
Can this provide H2 for a fuel cell then electricity?

It looks like Norway is at it again.

This says that SAS will use AIRBUS and not Boring. So it sounds to me that Norway will help kick start electric planes like it did with electric cars. I think that AIRBUS is ahead of Boeing in that field.

People here are flying like crazy these days, from/to scandinavia. The economy is strong and discount tickets available all over. Most governments are unable, or do not wish/dare to tax these harming pleasures, although taxes would assist in speeding up development of alternative airplane technologies. Just like we see now with earth transportation.

Electric flight is probably where hydrogen fuel cells make the most sense. Hydrogen is lightweight, it can be refuelled quickly and it can be produced at the airport with renewable energy.

Hydrogen is the most difficult type of fuel to fly safely.
It is a highly flammable gas that leaks very easily. It takes an impractical amount of space, unless you are willing to compress it (any weight gains are lost due to the thick and heavy reinforced materials required for the tanks.), or cool it down to cryo temperatures and turn it into a liquid, which is complex and also requires a significant amount of hardware.

A hydrogen fuelled passenger plane is probably be the most difficult way to make an electric airplane.

It’s far better than using heavy batteries though

On the nose K-Lien

Fuel for driving around the airport is A LOT because of the efficiency of turbojets at low speed and low altitude.

I think I read somewhere that they were going to use wheel-motors to taxi.

Boeing is building a 4-rotor delivery vehicle that can carry 500lbs. They are also into military drones with all different propulsion systems including electric.

Yes, this is actually an important reason to have the ability to store it to generate a decent amount of electrical power onboard. In addition to saving energy it can save time and cost because the plane will be able to reverse under its own power, eliminating the need for a tug car and decreasing the turnaround time.

Nuclear would probably be the best technology for generating the electricity, but requires reactor technology that doesn’t pose a proliferation risk. Interestingly, several such reactor designs have been proposed, although I have no idea if they are possible to ale down to a mobile power station scenario.

Imagine an aircraft that’s CO2 free and able to fly at supersonic speed for a month or more between refueling…!

That was seriously studied in the 50s but dumped because of the weight of protective shielding required for the crew (for normal ops) and the unacceptable hazards to the civil population for RUD(Rapid Unplanned Disassembly) events.
See Nuclear B36.

Here is how a hybrid electric aircraft could work