Hybrid-electric commercial planes could be a reality if Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens are successful. The three companies recently teamed up to work on the E-Fan X technology demonstrator that could hit the skies in around three years.
Siemens, Airbus, and Rolls-Royce announced their collaboration recently at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. They’ll come together to create what they call a near-term flight demonstrator that could fly in 2020. Out of four gas turbine engines on the aircraft, one will be replaced with a two-megawatt electric motor, and they’ll work towards switching out a second.
Each company has a role to play: Airbus is in charge of overall integration and control architecture for the batteries and hybrid-electric propulsion system. Rolls-Royce is in charge of the two-megawatt generator, power electronics, and turbo-shaft engine. And Siemens will provide the two-megawatt electric motors and a power control unit – and an inverter, power distribution system, and DC/DC converter.
According to an Airbus press release on the project, “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 companies said some of the major challenges facing the aviation sector are lowering dependence on fossil fuels and boosting efficiency. They’re working to meet the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation, which entails a 75 percent and 90 percent reduction of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, respectively, as well as slashing noise by 65 percent. Airbus said existing technologies cannot achieve these targets, so the companies are pursuing alternatives like electrification. The statement said, “Electric and hybrid-electric propulsion are seen today as among the most promising technologies for addressing these challenges.”
Images via Airbus