Three multinational conglomerates have agreed to collaborate in an ambitious attempt to develop electric aircraft. Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens have announced that the partnership has been created in an effort to accelerate the development and subsequent deployment of hybrid-electric propulsion for commercial aircraft.
The program is being entitled the 'E-Fan X', and the hybrid-electric technology demonstrator is projected to be in a position to fly by 2020, following a comprehensive and intensive testing campaign, which was conducted provisionally on a Bae 146 flying testbed. The companies revealed that one of the aircraft's four gas turbine engines will be replaced by a two-megawatt electric motor.
In addition to this, it has been disclosed that provisions will be made to replace a second gas turbine with an electric motor, but that will only happen when system maturity has been clearly proven. The aviation sector has described the E-Fan X as a hugely important step in making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future and hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology in the future of aviation.
The partnership between Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens can lean on the lessons of the past with regards to electric flight demonstrators, and use the projects embarked upon by Cri-Cri, the e-Genius, E-Star and the E-Fan 1.2 as a roadmap. The E-Fan X demonstrator aims to explore the challenges proposed by high-power propulsion systems, some of the challenges include thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems and electromagnetic compatibility issues.
In addition to this, the innovative program aims to establish the requirements for future certification of electrically powered aircraft, and ultimately create a framework and environment towards training a new generation of engineers and designers in order to help make hybrid-electric commercial aircraft a 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 demonstration across various power classes.
Among the top challenges for today's aviation sector is to move towards a means of transport with improved environmental performance that is more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels. The partners are committed to meeting the EU technical environmental goals of the European Commission's Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation (reduction of CO2 by 75 per cent, reduction of NOx by 90 per cent and noise reduction by 65 per cent).
"Siemens has been driving innovation in core technology fields at full speed," said Roland Busch, chief technology officer of Siemens. "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."