You know a new industry is born when investments pour in and results encourage more spending. Now, a new lab, the Collins Electric Aircraft Lab, wants to offer urban air mobility (UAM) and the general electric aviation world a 1MW electric airplane motor.
Without wanting to raise the topic of weight versus practicality, the idea of shrinking electric motors hasn’t caught on with the general public as much as battery energy density. There is plenty to do making everything more efficient, including electric motors. Cost-competitive electric vertical takeoff & landing (eVTOL) and electric conventional takeoff & landing (eCTOL) aircraft need much more efficient electric drivetrains than are currently available. With that in mind, Collins Electric Aircraft Lab wants to make more efficient 1MW electric aviation motors.
Putting its money where its mouth is, the $50 million investment means building a high-voltage lab, aptly named “The Grid.” Collins Aerospace in Rockford, Illinois, is designing and testing the center. The initial system will be used on a hybrid-electric demonstrator aircraft.
According to a press release, Collins Aerospace CEO Kelly Ortberg said the lab will design and test its hybrid-electric propulsion technologies for next-generation business, commercial, military, and urban air mobility aircraft. In the meantime, the 25,000-square foot facility has 4 independent modular electric power systems labs that will be fully operational by 2021.
“Our internal UTC studies indicate that commercial electric and hybrid electric propulsion could reduce aircraft noise by up to 85 percent, can improve fuel consumption by up to 40 percent, can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 20 percent and reduce airline operating and maintenance costs by up to 20 percent.”
The first mission, Project 804, will develop a hybrid-electric flight demonstrator. The Project 804 will use a Bombardier Dash-8 with a 2MW hybrid-electric powertrain. “The goal of Project 804, developed by the company’s advanced projects group, is to re-engine and fly a regional turboprop aircraft powered by a 2 megawatt-class hybrid-electric propulsion system on a highly aggressive timeline. The advanced projects group combines the engineering expertise and experience of Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and UTC’s research center.”
For further reading on this project is here: The The Pragmatic Future of Hybrid-Electric Flight: A Technical Analysis of United Technologies Advanced Projects’ X-Plane.
Why Is The Collins Electric Aircraft Lab Important?
Ortberg has experience with Boeing 787 generators putting out nearly 1.5MW! Those 6 Collins Aerospace generators replace many ancillary systems, such as traditional heavy hydraulics and pneumatic power systems. The Grid wants to raise the 270 voltages used by the 787 (on which Ortberg was chief engineer) for the electric power system of the 787 Dreamliner. He says those generators can handle more with a more robust dynamometer upgrade.
It’s obvious the bulk of R&D should go toward shrinking battery energy density, bringing it closer to the 1,000 Wh/kg level, ideally around the 570–700 vicinity. Another efficiency upgrade contender is the venerable electric motor. We look forward to seeing the results of the Collins Electric Aircraft Lab.
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