The 5th edition of More Electric Aircraft conference, organized by 3AF and SEE, was held in Toulouse, France on 6th and 7th of February 2019. The conference brought together the finest laboratories and industrials, a global presence of 16 different nationalities, working on short-term projects to minimize fossil fuel consumption and improve overall aircraft reliability by replacing electrical systems with which is still hydraulic or pneumatic.
On this occasion, many research programs related to the More Electric Aircraft were presented by experts demonstrating significant progress and future challenges in these areas. MAHEPA project was presented by dr. Alberto Rolando and dr. Lorenzo Trainnelli, who introduced a milestone-setting project in hybrid-electric aircraft technology development and evaluation of the impact of fleet switching to hybrid-electric aircraft on airport infrastructures.
With 250 participants, about twenty industrial stands, interventions of personalities such as the president of 3AF, the representative of the president of the SEE, the president of Aerospace Valley, the representative of the president of ONERA, the director of the center of research by Safran, the director of Aeronautics at the German DLR, the event offered a comprehensive overview of tomorrow’s aircraft and drafts of the day after tomorrow.
On-going research and investments in air transportation are driven by the ambition to increase the efficiency of aircraft, reducing fuel consumption and hence carbon emission. Another ambition is to reduce operating costs and to increase reliability. Given the high demand for air transportation and its expected growth, these challenges are of major importance. Recent developments for pursuing these critical requirements concerned the electrification of aircraft systems which significantly increased electrical power needs and impacted aircraft power architecture.
More electrical technology is being driven by strong advances in power electronic devices, high efficiency power generators, advanced actuation systems, energy storage technologies, new manufacturing processes, new power generation and distribution architectures. Whilst many concepts have already been demonstrated on more-electrical platforms, developments on more electric aircraft systems are subject to on-going research programmes of major importance. There is much more to do to challenge the power density and improve the reliability while taking the best of the intrinsic advantages of electrical technology. New research programmes in Europe and beyond are also pushing innovative propulsion concepts, all electric, hybrid or turboelectric, potentially distributed. The design for this future generation of more electric propulsion aircraft challenges not only structure and aerodynamics but also power distribution, energy storage, thermal management, reliability and certification all of which were addressed during the conference.
The key points that were highlighted during the conference:
At the plane level
Many presentations referred to ongoing work on a more economical hybrid propulsion, in which a battery-powered electric motor, powered by a near-constant-speed thermal engine, would be able to provide the brief extra power required for take-off and certain phases of the flight.
In-depth studies of these same propulsion units based on electrical machines with superconductors have shown a real and promising progress. Original ideas for nose de-icing have been noted using electrified systems, advanced and innovative electrical flight controls. A very promising interest has thus been presented in terms of current taxiing trends, stopped engines, (E-Taxiing) in order to save fuel and reduce the surrounding pollution by the same amount.
The “all electric” which is already propelling light aircraft is the basis of the many concepts of vehicles for the “Urban Air Mobility” of which some projects were evoked; but the mass of batteries remains, more than on the road, a major limitation to the range, until the maturity of the technologies of fuel cells and storage of hydrogen that the car of the future also explores.
It should be noted the interesting intervention concerning the reflection undertaken at the level of the airport infrastructures to organize the electric management the day when the planes will be all electric.
At the power generation level
A more precise and direct examination of the power converters (supercapacitors) and hybridization in the space of the applications, associated with the absence of harmful emissions with propellant systems based on hydrogen cells, allowed interesting advances. But the fundamental question remains in terms of technological development.
However, the message is clear: today, research is progressing fast, although we are far from having a purely electric propulsion (except for light aircraft), in the absence of sufficiently powerful storage means allowing use on public transport aircraft.