Siemens and Airbus to push electric aviation engines

Companies want to jointly develop engine prototypes with power classes ranging from a few 100 kilowatts up to 10 and more megawatts, for short, local trips


Siemens and Airbus teamed up today to develop electric and hybrid electric/combustion engines for commercial and private aircraft.

The companies said they would amass a joint development team of about 200 employees that would jointly develop prototypes for various propulsion systems with power classes ranging from a few 100 kilowatts up to 10 and more megawatts, for short, local trips with aircraft below 100 seats, helicopters or unmanned aircraft up to classic short and medium-range flights.

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Hybrid-electric propulsion systems can significantly reduce fuel consumption of aircraft and reduce noise. European emissions targets aim for a 75% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. These ambitious goals cannot be achieved by conventional technologies, the companies stated.

Airbus has developed a 2-seat electrically powered aircraft, known as the E-Fan. Siemens too has been developing an electric aircraft engine.

"We believe that by 2030 passenger aircraft below 100 seats could be propelled by hybrid propulsion systems and we are determined to explore this possibility together with world-class partners like Siemens," said Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group in a statement.

The Airbus/Siemens electronic aircraft propulsion system is not the only work being done in the area. NASA has a couple ongoing projects that look to use hybrid electric or strait electric power for aircraft.

In June of last year the agency defined a number of key areas to explore with regards to electric propulsion systems. A challenge with electric propulsion is the mass (volume and weight) of the batteries that must be carried inside the aircraft. But what if the aircraft structure itself could serve as the battery? Advances in materials, chemistry and nanotechnology might make this possible, NASA says.

+More on Network World: NASA: What cool future passenger aircraft will look like+

Another challenge in implementing electric propulsion on airliners (where electricity drives the engine fan to produce thrust, rather than petroleum-based fuel being burned in a traditional jet engine) is how to make the whole power distribution system as efficient and lightweight as possible. A potential solution may be found in advances in high voltage, variable frequency drives now used on the ground, which significantly reduces the size and weight of the required equipment, NASA stated.

NASA has also worked with Boeing to develop hybrid aircraft.

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