Hybrid-electric aircraft – the next step in electrification of mobility

Hybrid-electric aircraft – the next step in electrification of mobility

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Electric mobility is not just for cars. An increasing number of developments are under way to electrify propulsion systems for aircraft. The most recent one: Airbus Industries, Rolls-Royce (the jet engine manufacturer, not the car maker) and Siemens have joined forces to develop a hybrid electric propulsion technology for commercial airplanes. The driver for such developments is, like in the automotive space, the CO2 emission reduction.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

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The trio announced its collaboration at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. The move will bring together the world’s foremost experts in electric propulsion technologies, the companies said during the announcement.

Their plan is developing a hybrid-electric technology demonstrator, the E-Fan X. It is scheduled to fly in 2020 after a comprehensive ground test campaign. As the testbed for the E-Fan X, the companies plan to use a BAe 146 short-haul airliner. In the four-engine aircraft, one of the gas turbines will be replaced by a 2-megawatt electric motor for test purposes. It is planned to replace a second gas turbine with the electric system once the system maturity has proven.

With the E-Fan X, the developers plan to explore the challenges of high-power propulsion systems such as thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems as well as electromagnetic compatibility issues that might arise in such a configuration. The objective is to push and mature the technology, performance, safety and reliability enabling quick progress on the hybrid electric technology. The program 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.

This drawing shows how the partners have
divided up their tasks. Source: Siemens

As part of the E-Fan X program, 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 electric motor.


Siemens will deliver the 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 60%, reduction of NOx by 90% and noise reduction by 75%). These cannot be achieved with existing technologies. Therefore, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are investing in research in different technology areas including electrification. Electric and hybrid-electric propulsion are seen today as among the most promising technologies for addressing these challenges.

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