Silent Air Tax - Urban Air Mobility - e-mobility

A stroll through E-mobility above the clouds: Zero emission aircraft

Reiner Hertl
18.05.2020
5 minutes

The energy turnaround, quietly floating in the air. But the electric aviation era has begun. Hundreds of companies, airlines and research institutes around the world are working on the development of electric aircraft. A transition to e-mobility in stages – experts are still talking about decades until the advent of large e-passenger aircraft. Sooner or later:

From short-haul and commuter routes to e-carriers and longer distances

Even if change can only be achieved gradually: In the e-revolution of the aviation industry, after small aircraft – often used for commuter flights – electric long-haul flights should gradually come closer. Purely electric powertrains could, with zero emissions, power an increasing number of increasingly larger aircraft with zero emissions. Flights would become cheaper for passengers overall. “Commercial aviation is possible with electric propulsion”, says Roei Ganzarski, head of the US company Magnix. Its fully electric propeller aircraft, celebrated in 2019 as the “first electric commercial aircraft”, is in the spotlight together with other current players

E-mobility – precursors and races

As a technological option, electric drives gradually emerged from their former niche existence (for example as auxiliary drives for gliders). From electrically powered regional aircraft to the copter and air taxi in Urban Air Mobility. There is fierce competition to see who can fly without kerosene. The run may be symbolized by the “Air Race E” series of races for electric aircraft. Or the electric aircraft developed by Rolls-Royce in the ACCEL project, which aims to become the fastest in the world.

The English Channel as a test platform – or while we’re about it – a round-the-world trip

Accel should be able to make a flight from London to Paris. A demonstration route that is always important. Also for e-success stories. Steve Ptacek crossed the English Channel in 1981 with his “Solar Challenger”. The Airbus E-Fan and Duval’s Cri-Cri crossed the Channel in 2015, and Bertrand Picard and André Borschberg made a sensational flight around the world with the “Solar Impulse” in 2015/16. Their main drive: to focus on saving energy. We are moving into focus as an example of CO2 saving:

Accel, Eviation Aircraft, Magnix

Accel stands for “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight” – the name says it all. The British engine manufacturer, which is also pushing ahead with other projects in the field of electric flying, wants to break the e-speed record with this. Rolls-Royce had previously acquired Siemens’ electric and hybrid drive business in the summer of 2019.

Electric aircraft ACCEL from Rolls Royce
© Rolls Royce

Eviation is planning a commercial aircraft for nine people under the name of “Alice”. It is planned to start commercial operation by 2022. The head of the Israeli company Omer Bar-Yohay also sees the lower operating costs as one of the decisive advantages of E-Aircraft. In January, however, the Alice prototype caught fire on the ground in the battery system, which probably throws back the schedule. The Alice powertrain was also supplied by Magnix.

The US company Magnix also had its own all-electric passenger aircraft take off from Vancouver for a test flight with a converted “Beaver” at the end of the year. Again and again, and for good reason, lower maintenance costs are cited as a benefit for green aircraft. And of course the climate should no longer have to pay for it:

Lower-emission modern engines – but more and more air carriers

Various engines have improved their environmental compatibility on the one hand. On the other hand, global air traffic is growing and increasing. As a result, the environmental pollution caused by emissions is increasing. This, in turn, can hardly be compensated for by the use of more environmentally friendly engines. In the coming decades, a measurable shift towards e-mobility in air traffic will have to be achieved.

After all, a clear majority wants flying to be significantly cleaner. And many governments also want to step up the political pressure for this. The EU’s “Flightpath 2050” program, for example, aims to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from new aircraft by 90 percent per passenger kilometre. A massive increase in air traffic was predicted long before the corona standstill. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), for example, has estimated that global air traffic will grow by around 3.7 percent annually by 2040.

The E-flyers – DLR and Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Volocopter, Lilium

The German Aerospace Center sees the e-plane of the future as being larger in size. Together with Bauhaus Luftfahrt, it presented the CoCoRe concept study, a hybrid-electric 19-seater, in February. Here, the electric range is to be extended to up to 1,000 km using gas turbines as range extenders. The European “IMOTHEP” project is also conducting joint research into hybrid electric drive.

Lilium - air taxi - flight taxi
© Lilium

Volocopter

The Bruchsal-based company is continuing to develop electrically driven multicopters with the VoloCity air taxi and the VoloDrone heavy-duty drone. DB Schenker is on board as a new investor. With an interest in emission-neutral transport logistics.

Lilium

WingMag has already informed several times about the progress of the emission-free air taxi from Munich. Commercial operation is scheduled to start as early as 2025. The achievement of this goal could possibly be delayed because a prototype caught fire on the ground in February.

The two players in the Duopoly – Airbus and Boeing

Only recently, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury suggested that governments “support airlines in the climate-friendly conversion of their fleets”. WingMag had already portrayed the “E-Fan” of Airbus, further developed as E-Fan X. Other examples include the concept of the “draft animal” Vahana and the UAM project “City Airbus”.

The portfolio of Boeing NeXt, responsible for the UAM, includes various programs and prototypes. For example PAV and CAV, Passenger Air Vehicle and Cargo Aircraft. For the E-Aircraft, Boeing is relying on partners in Japan, especially in propulsion and battery technology. In addition, ultra-light materials are to be further advanced. The NeXt development department cooperates closely with the current Boeing subsidiary Aurora at these interfaces.

Infrastructure to be established, alternatives to be considered

Other aspects: The requirements of targeted e-mobility also include efficient landing and charging infrastructure. At airports and ports. And hybrid electric aircraft, i.e. the combination of combustion and electric drive, as a bridging technology? You can find another e-insight in our interview with the Fraunhofer IPT about hybrid systems, hydrogen mobility and the Silent Air Taxi.

Silent Air Taxi - Urban Air Mobility
Presentation of the Silent Air Taxi / © Jennifer Weitbrecht

Projects, perspectives and trends in e-mobility

Not only in terms of drive technology: Who continues to set trends, new milestones? The Swiss company H55, whose electric aircraft Bristell Energic is already undergoing flight tests? The American Wright Electric. The Slovenian Pipistrel. With the Alpha Electro, a training simulator, it offers a two-seater electric ultralight aircraft. Maxwell – NASA’s four-seater X-57? Future-oriented examples.

What is the way forward from two or four-seater to ten-seater? How can the electric short distance extend? Well-timed, we continue to brief on the R(e)volution. After all, redefining flying is electrifying. And is as exciting as the question of increasing battery and storage capacities.

Cover photo © Jennifer Weitbrecht

by Reiner Hertl

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