E-mobility in the Aerospace Industry
Following an increase in oil prices in 2008 and pressures on governments for a “greener planet”, significant investment has been applied in recent years to move to electronic vehicles. The electric car market is already surging in popularity. E-mobility in the Aerospace industry is relatively lagging behind, but there is progress. To some extent, Aerospace is watching Automotive and other sectors closely as it prepares itself to move from internal combustion engines (ICE) to all-electric and hybrid fuelled power.
Electric aircraft – a technology nearly 50 years old!
Surprisingly to many, the technology behind electric aircraft has existed nearly 50 years. The first flight of an aircraft powered by an electric motor was back in 1973 when Heino Brditschka flew an electric-powered plane near Linz, Austria. The Aerospace and Aviation industries have been slow to adopt though as they have continued to rely and depend upon ICE-fuelled aircraft.
In 2016, the Solar Impulse 2 proved electric aircraft technology by circumnavigating the globe, whilst only being powered by an electric motor, 4 x 41 kWh lithium-ion batteries and solar panels.
SPI Lasers believe that fiber lasers have an important role to play in the future of aerospace e-mobility.
Forecast growth of electric vehicles market
According to research published by QYResearch Inc, in December 2018:
- Growth rate – The electric aircraft industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.9% in the period 2018 through to 2025
- The market is largely in pre-adoption mode with many electric aircraft being produced for training and research purposes in this period
- COVID-19 impact – the pandemic will impact the growth of electric aircraft in the following ways:
- investments in R&D – airlines will have less future income for R&D purposes
- reduction in airline revenue – with an expected reduction in aviation use (2020 – 2022) airlines are struggling to stay in business and are not likely to invest in new aircraft
Advantages and benefits of e-mobility in aerospace
When compared to ICE engines, the advent of electric motors will deliver the following advantages and benefits of e-mobility in the aerospace industry
- Improved performance at higher altitudes – planes perform better at higher altitudes; electric aircraft are easier to maintain at higher altitude levels
- Lighter – electric aircraft are lighter, which has numerous advantages including using less fuel and improved aero-dynamics
- Lower power needed – electric motors require less power to generate the same amount of speed
- Lower priced air travel – as general operating costs are lower for electric aircraft, ticket prices to passengers are expected to fall. A major reduction in cost is the saving of expensive aviation fuel
- Reduced emissions – a fundamental benefit of electric aircraft is obviously the vastly reduced emissions by not burning fossil fuels
- Reduced noise pollution – electric aircraft will create very minimal noise pollution, contrast this to modern-day ICE powered planes and the huge noise pollution they create
Obstacles facing e-mobility adoption in aerospace
There is currently a technology barrier to large-scale e-mobility adoption in aerospace with most analysts predicting major strides won’t be possible until into the 2030s.
Particular barriers to adoption include:
- Cooling systems – thermal management will be fundamental to electric aircraft, with flights needing to expel between 50kW – 800 kW of heat per flight
- Electric batteries – currently a major restriction for electric aircraft adoption, batteries need large-scales technological advances. Improvements are needed in power to weight ratios for electric aviation, storage technology, battery energy density, battery charging solutions and infrastructure as well as battery swapping solutions
- Electric motors – advances are needed in e-motors to extend their power and the range with which electric aircraft can travel.
Perhaps not surprisingly NASA is leading the way with technology research for electric aircraft, with their NASA Electric Aircraft Testbed project. NASA’s vision is to
“Design, develop, assemble and test electric aircraft power systems, from a small, one or two person aircraft up to 20 MW (27,000 hp) airliners.”
SPI Lasers – e-mobility solutions for the aerospace industry
As you can see from our Aerospace insights section, SPI Lasers have a strong track record of delivery in the aerospace industry. As a business, we believe e-mobility has an immense future and we will be delivering innovative e-mobility solutions across different vertical markets. We would love for your organisation to come along with us on the journey, so why not contact us so we can develop solutions suitable for you and your customers?
SPI Lasers already have excellent delivery capabilities in prominent areas of aerospace e-mobility such as additive manufacturing, cutting, drilling, welding, etc. Why not utilise this functionality in your own projects? If you have enjoyed this article, click here for future updates.
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