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Airbus & Rolls-Royce End E-Fan X Electric Demo Project, Still Working To Decarbonize Aviation

Aviation unites people, countries, society. Although I am not supporting that anyone flies at this time, I found some interesting information for those who must. CleanTechnica supports all those efforts to bring emission-free skies up to the standard being set by electric emission-free automobiles.

E-Fan X. Image courtesy Airbus.

Aviation unites people, countries, society. Although I am not supporting that anyone flies at this time, I found some interesting information for those who must. CleanTechnica supports all those efforts to bring emission-free skies up to the standard being set by electric emission-free automobiles. According to Nicolas Zart, 2019 was an explosive year for electric aviation, at the end of a technologically driven decade. We agree, but there is still much needed for the industry to bloom.

Many large and small companies are trying to push the proverbial green mobility envelope further with new technology in the sky, while electric cars continue their steady rise. It is similarly exhilarating to those who want better air quality as it is to those reveling in technological innovation.

I appreciate and echo Grazia Vittadini, Airbus Chief Technology Officer, as she notes, “Aviation connects and unites people.” We all want that aviation to be greener, creating zero emissions. There is an inherent magic in flight, that we can be as birds, soaring to the long distance in the skies. But we don’t want to feel guilty about enormous carbon emissions that go along with it — even if we “offset” those.

Vittadini, continues that this magic of flight, drove a wonderful growth in air travel. “This increase led us to explore innovative technologies to ensure that future generations can enjoy flying as much as we do.”

Unfortunately, the news this month from Airbus is not that positive, although Vittadini does end up putting a positive spin on it. Airbus and Rolls-Royce are ending their joint E-Fan X electric demonstrator project. Nonetheless, Vittadini is adamant the overall efforts aren’t over. Emphasizing what Zart said, “When I first started my career at Airbus, the notion of electric flight was considered a far-off pipedream. Today, it’s a reality. Airbus’ overriding goal remains unchanged: we’re fully committed to decarbonising aviation. We’re steadfast in our belief that there’s no world in which the future of air travel is not a sustainable one.”

“As we start to navigate the realities of a post-COVID-19 world, I’m more certain than ever that we need to continue full-speed ahead with our sustainability ambitions. In fact, given the unprecedented challenge of climate change, we at Airbus have been asking ourselves if we could take an even bolder approach to reduce CO2 emissions. Today, our answer is a resounding yes!”

She cautions that decarbonizing the aviation industry is not an undertaking for the less adventurous or those shy of technology. It is a feat to be met with innovation. “To achieve this, we need to re-focus all of our efforts on technology bricks that will take us there.”

Featured image courtesy Airbus.

She explains in vague terms why Airbus and Rolls-Royce jointly decided to bring the E-Fan X demonstrator to an end. “As with all ground-breaking R&T projects, it’s our duty to constantly evaluate and reprioritize them to ensure alignment with our ambitions. These decisions are not always easy. But they’re undoubtedly necessary to stay the course.”

She also provides a bit of history on the project: “When we launched the E-Fan X project in 2017, we set out with the ambition to push the limits by testing disruptive technologies in a game-changing approach to future aircraft. And we did just that: E-Fan X has shattered pre-conceived notions of what is possible in future flight. This helped us to pave the way for an industry-wide decarbonization movement of which we’re proud to take the lead.

“To say we’ve learned a lot from this demonstrator project would be an understatement. Over the past three years, each successful E-Fan X milestone has offered us rich insights for the future, including:

  • Serial hybrid-electric propulsion: Hybrid architectures, high-voltage systems and batteries are indispensable technology bricks for several other demonstrator projects across our wider R&T portfolio to diversify power sources. We will continue to develop and mature them at our E-Aircraft System Test House.
  • New pathways for disruptive CO2 reduction: Exploring the possibilities—and limitations of—serial hybrid-electric propulsion also opened up inquiry into new technology pathways. Hydrogen being one of them, which is equal parts a huge opportunity as it is a new challenge.
  • Future certification and regulatory acceptance: From the start, we have been consistently delighted by our customers’—and indeed, the entire aviation ecosystem’s—overwhelming enthusiasm for E-Fan X. With our research partnerships on hybrid-electric and hydrogen airport infrastructure and operations, we will have laid a foundation for the future industry-wide adoption and regulatory acceptance of alternative-propulsion commercial aircraft.”

Vittadini contends that all that they have learned from E-Fan X has led Airbus to create a more focused and informed decarbonization roadmap.

Vittadini shares her gratitude to all partners, engineers, and designers — at Airbus and beyond. “I’m extremely grateful and proud of the team: you’re an amazing group of bold, talented and dedicated professionals! Also, I’d like to thank Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce CTO, and his team for an extraordinary partnership on E-Fan X. I invite you to read Paul’s moving statement here. It’s through cross-industry partnerships like these that the aviation industry will bring competitive zero-emission solutions to the future of flight.”

Paul Stein’s thoughts on sustainability and electrification reflect Vittadini’s. As he reflects back in time to life pre-COVID 19, he believes that one of the world’s most important tasks was to find a way to live more sustainably.

“And when I look forward to a post-COVID 19 world, when we can be with each other again, I truly believe that interest in sustainability will be stronger than ever. In aviation we will have come to recognize how much travel and human interaction means to us and be even more committed to ensure it continues as we better understand the frailty of our planet and the fragility of humankind.”

The progress made from the Airbus and Rolls-Royce partnership won’t be lost.

It is true that once one is accustomed to driving emissions-free electric vehicles, it quickly follows that we want to fly emissions free. Emissions free skies is a kinder vision for the traveler that needs to fly. Recently we enjoyed the maiden flight of the “largest all-electric commercial aircraft.” I hope this is exponentially manifest soon.

Also, electric aircraft pilot training is arriving! Quantum Air and OSM Aviation Group have an electric aircraft pilot training partnership, taking complementary practical steps forward toward a zero-emission aviation future.

Featured image courtesy Airbus.

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Written By

Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits.


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