The future electrification of aircraft propulsion will have a significant positive environmental effect by helping to reduce emissions and lower the carbon footprint of aviation. Many groups have been working to integrate quieter, more efficient, and less polluting aircraft within the rest of the transport infrastructure, ensuring aircrafts can fly to and from a cost-effective network of small operating bases. As the end of the race to electrical aviation commuting draws nearer, it’s important to know the leading projects and participants who have led to this change.
Programme one is the ‘2ZERO’ (Towards Zero Emission In Regional Aircraft Operations) programme. It is hosted by a plethora of institutes and companies including Logan Air, Rolls-Royce Electrical, Nottingham University, Exeter and Devon Airports, Cornwall Airport, Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP), UK Power Network Services and lead by Ampaire. The aim of this project is to improve regional services and provide more time and energy- efficient travel options compared with traditional hub-and -spoke systems. The programme will model and simulate a point-to-point route system for regional flights in the South West of the UK. This programme includes a demonstration flight of Ampaire’s six seat all electric aircraft called ‘Electric EEL’ and their nineteen-seat hybrid-electric upgrade of the Twin Otter commuter aircraft called the ‘Eco Otter SX’.
The importance of the ‘Electric EEL’ and ‘Eco Otter SX’ is that they will be used as model aircrafts to develop and evaluate requirements for future fully integrated electric aviation infrastructures. According to Ampaire, the hybrid electric aircraft would reduce fossil fuel emissions up to 70 per cent and eliminate emissions from the all-electric aircraft. This programme is running from December 2020 to May 2022.
The 2Zero works in collaboration with the SATE project specifically with the Electric EEL when it comes to putting the aircrafts into action. The SATE project set to bring sustainability to short routes. Low carbon aircraft are to fly on short routes in Scotland as part of SATE (Sustainable Aviation Test Environment), a project that could transform travel between remote communities.
HyFlyer I & II
The HyFlyer project aims to decarbonise medium range small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional piston engines in propeller aircraft. The conventional powertrain in the aircraft will be replaced with electric motors, hydrogen fuel cells and gas storage. This project is led by ZeroAvia, developers of hydrogen fuel cell powertrain solutions with collaborations between EMEC, Aeristech, BEIS, ATI and Innovate. HyFlyer will demonstrate a phased approach from battery power to hydrogen power, integrating the new technology aboard a Piper M-class six-seater aircraft. This joint Government and industry investment is to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. The aircraft will perform initial test flights out of Cranfield and culminate in a 250 – 300 nautical mile (NM) A – B demonstration flight. The project’s objectives are to deliver the world’s first fuel cell powertrain for zero-emission aviation, proving aviation maintenance and operations for technology, stimulate the aviation market and provide services offering an entrance for this technology.
The HyFlyer II project will see ZeroAvia develop the first certifiable hydrogen-electric powertrain that can power airframes carrying up to 19 passengers. This project has collaborations between Intelligent Energy, EMEC, IAG, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS). This builds on developments in the first HyFlyer project which saw the world’s first flight of a commercial-grade hydrogen-electric aircraft at Cranfield in September, utilising a smaller version of ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell powertrain in a 6-seat Piper Malibu M350. The project will conclude with another world-first hydrogen-electric flight this time in a 19-seat aircraft with a 350 mile flight in early 2023. EMEC will deliver the green hydrogen fuelling systems required to power the aircraft for flight tests, including its mobile fuelling platform designed to suit an airport environment. Aeristech, a leading developer of power dense and efficient air compressor solutions, will work with ZeroAvia to integrate its advanced air compressor system as part of the new 19-seat powertrain
The project—Integrated Flight Control, Energy Storage and Propulsion Technologies for Electric Aircraft (InCEPTion)—is supported and co-funded by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK and was launched in January 2021. The 24-month project will deliver a highly power-dense, quiet, and efficient propulsion module with zero emissions out. This project has been delivered by a collaboration between Bluebear Systems, Dowty Propellers, Drive System Design, Ricardo, M&I Materials, University of Cambridge’s Whittle Laboratory, University of Salford’s Acoustics Research Centre, ATI. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) specialist Blue Bear Systems Research, a UK Small to Medium Enterprise, has formed a seven-strong consortium to develop a next-generation, all-electric propulsion module to enhance aircraft performance while reducing operating costs. The propulsion module is a scalable design and is the first in a range of products that can be used for aircraft less than 5 tonnes in the near term. The InCEPTion consortiums propulsion module will bring game-changing technology to manned and unmanned aviation, delivering unrivalled performance and value in this newly emerging sector.
Faradair is developing a hybrid-electric aircraft concept that solves three core problems hindering regional flight growth such as noise, operation costs and emissions. With a clean-sheet design aircraft specifically configured for hybrid-electric flight, BEHA aims to achieve significant reductions in these areas whilst delivering an economically viable regional air transport solution. A multi-role asset, BEHA converts from an 18-passenger configuration to cargo in just 15 minutes. Accommodating three LD3 cargo containers and payloads of up to 5 tons, BEHA is an environment-neutral workhorse, maximizing revenue opportunity 24/7. Hybrid-electric flight provides a cost-effective distributed aviation model, enabling local airfields the ability to offer scheduled and charter flight services to regional towns and cities at a price-point unmatched through traditional major airport hubs. The aircraft has unique structural features such as triple box wings, short take-off, and landing with 18 passengers, hybrid-electric functions, whisper quiet propulsion with a carbon neutral footprint and carbon composite material uses to make the plane as light weight as possible. This project is delivered by the leadership of Fardair and the collaborations between MagniX, Honeywell, Cambridge Consultants, Nova Systems, Swansea University.
GKN Aerospace will lead a ground-breaking UK collaboration programme, called H2GEAR, to develop the company’s first hydrogen propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft. Hydrogen is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation strategy of aviation as it can power aircraft efficiently, leaving water as the only by-product. H2GEAR puts GKN Aerospace at the heart of the technology developments needed for the future of more sustainable aviation. The technology will first focus on significantly improving sub-regional aircraft hydrogen powered performance, in turn enabling applications on larger aircraft and longer journeys. The programme is supported by £27M of ATI funding, matched by GKN Aerospace and its industrial partners. H2GEAR aims to develop a liquid hydrogen propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft that could be scaled up to larger aircraft. Liquid hydrogen is being converted to electricity within a fuel cell system. This electricity efficiently powers the aircraft, eliminating CO2 emissions. This would create a new generation of clean air travel, eliminating harmful CO2 emissions. GKN Aerospace will collaborate with Intelligent Energy, Aeristech, Newcastle University, The University of Manchester and University of Birmingham, throughout the programme, aiming to create more than 3,000 jobs in the next decade. The programme will be delivered from GKN Aerospace’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol, the company’s £32M brand-new collaborative space for research and development. GKN Aerospace will use its long term experience and in-depth knowledge of electrical power systems and propulsion technology to accelerate the development of technology. The entry-into- service of the first hydrogen-powered aircraft could be as early as 2026.
Project Fresson will deliver an emissions-free (zero CO2), hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered flying demonstrator by September 2022. Having completed a comprehensive evaluation of technologies and configurations for sustainable aircraft propulsion, the Fresson team concluded that hydrogen fuel cell technology is the optimum solution to meet environmental, regulatory and operational requirements for this size of aircraft, enabling zero carbon emissions and reducing operating costs. This has presented the Fresson consortium, which includes Britten Norman, Delta Motor Sport, Dennis Ferranti, Warwick Manufacturing Group and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS), with an opportunity to deliver an enhanced technology programme that surpasses the original demonstrator concept. Demonstrating that sustainable propulsion technology has a clear route to market, the Cranfield Aerospace Solutions-led consortium’s technology programme will accelerate the journey to zero-emissions passenger-carrying service. Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) announces it will exploit recent advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology to develop a commercially viable, retrofit powertrain solution for the nine-passenger Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.
The Technology Behind It All
In each project, there has been mention of the technology behind developing electronic propulsion systems and the creation of these hybrid engines which all need to be tested and trialled in a cost and energy effective way. The recent development of technologies including HIL are releasing the potential behind certain innovative advances made in airfare, HIL being one of the newest. HIL simulation is a technique that is used in the development and test stages of complex real-time systems. It has revolutionised the speed of development by simulating real life conditions for systems for the evaluation of the performance. It achieves this by using the electrical emulation of sensors and actuators. These electrical emulations act as the interface between the simulation and the embedded system under test. To find out more in-depth details about HIL you can visit this webinar: www.foresight.events/hil-simulation