High-efficiency electrified aircraft will require less energy, reduce the impact of air travel on the environment, and allow for cheaper air travel.
When will this technology be implemented commercially?
The correct building blocks are in place to have a viable large-plane EAP configuration tested by 2025 leading to entry into service in 2035.
We have electric cars, so why haven’t we had electric aircraft earlier?
Weight. Although a lighter car can have longer range than a heavier car, weight is less of a concern because ground vehicles don’t have to fight against gravity. The heavier an aircraft, the more power it requires for flight.
Also heat. In current power systems, 20% of energy is dissipated as excess heat that must be cooled.
A single-aisle size electric aircraft made with the technologies currently available would ultimately be too heavy to fly, and would require extra weight and energy to cool its components. Simply put, the plane would be inefficient. NASA is developing new technologies including motors, converters, circuit breakers, batteries, and cooling systems to keep components cooled while minimizing weight and heat loss.
What are some exciting developments in propulsion systems?
NASA’s High-Efficiency Electrified Aircraft Thermal Research (HEATheR) advanced power system showed the feasibility of a power system with 4x less loss and heat generation than the current state-of-the-art power system model. The power system driving the aircraft’s propellors, paired with an efficient cooling system, can result in a fuel-burn reduction of up to 15% depending on the type of aircraft model.
The High-Efficiency Megawatt Motor (HEMM) will have 99% efficiency and features new technologies including superconducting materials and self-cooling components.
Will electric aircraft be fuel efficient?
Implementation of electric motors on aircraft will significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels. An all-electric system can be used for small, short-range aircraft. For larger, faster, longer range planes, a hybrid system is used with a fuel-powered engine driving an electric generator. The hybrid systems gain benefits by improving thermal and propulsive efficiency, and by reducing the size of the fuel-powered engine.
Will EAP research present sustainable solutions to commercial aviation?
EAP technology holds the promise of cheaper, more efficient air travel. Some flights will eventually have zero in-flight emissions.
What other applications are there to this research?
The power system technology created for EAP aircraft has spin-off applications for windmills, ships, mobile generators, and ground transportation. Aircraft systems need to be very light and small, which is beneficial for many other applications.
What do the EAP researchers find interesting about their work?
- “We’re pushing the boundaries on what’s possible.”
- “I feel like I’m working at the forefront of the future, at the cutting edge of aviation.”
- “We’re getting to try novel things and take risks and push technology.”
- “The work is interesting and novel. It’s satisfying to work through challenges and knowing the impact this will have.”