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US Department of Energy: $33 Million for Carbon-Neutral Hybrid Electric Aviation

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced $33 million in funding for 17 projects as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives (ASCEND) and Range Extenders for Electric Aviation with Low Carbon and High Efficiency (REEACH) programs.

Originally published on Department of Energy (DOE) website.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy today announced $33 million in funding for 17 projects as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives (ASCEND) and Range Extenders for Electric Aviation with Low Carbon and High Efficiency (REEACH) programs.

ASCEND projects work to develop innovative, lightweight, and ultra-efficient all-electric powertrain with advanced thermal management systems that help enable efficient net-zero carbon emissions for single-aisle passenger commercial aircraft. REEACH projects seek to create innovative, cost-effective, and high-performance energy storage and power generation sub-systems for electric aircraft, with a focus on fuel-to-electric power conversion technologies. Both programs work to decrease energy usage and associated carbon emissions for commercial aircraft propulsion systems.

“Millions of Americans travel on single-aisle aircraft every year, contributing to continued increases in energy use and emissions by commercial airlines,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski. “REEACH and ASCEND teams will work to lower these burdens by creating innovative new systems to enable more cost-effective and efficient flight systems for commercial travel.”

Estimates comparing passenger-distance-specific CO2 emissions place commercial air travel on single-aisle aircraft at nearly double that of any other individual widely used transportation source, including by rail, bus, or car. REEACH and ASCEND teams seek to decrease these emissions as well as the economic burden associated with air travel for commercial airlines by developing elements of ultra-high efficient aircraft propulsion systems to use carbon neutral liquid fuels.

Of the $33 million being awarded through these programs, eight projects were selected under REEACH to split $18.5 million in funding, while ASCEND teams will receive $14.5 million for nine projects for Phase 1. Project teams in the ASCEND Program that achieve technical success during Phase 1 may be eligible to receive additional funding under Phase 2 to further develop their technologies. Up to $18 million in total is currently allocated for Phase 2 of the Program.

A sampling of these projects can be found below; for the full list of REEACH projects click HERE and for the full list of ASCEND projects click HERE.

REEACH—Range Extenders for Electric Aviation with Low Carbon and High Efficiency

Fuceltech Inc. — Princeton Junction, NJ

Extremely Lightweight Fuel Cell Based Power Supply System for Commercial Aircrafts — $1,656,438

Fuceltech proposes to develop an innovative low-cost, lightweight Energy Storage and Power Generation (ESPG) system for commercial aircraft. Fuceltech will develop a monopolar wound fuel cell potentially as high as 10kW rating and a novel stacking approach to deliver hundreds of kWs of power from a single small and lightweight stack. Fuceltech will use ethanol as a fuel and a reformer that delivers extremely low CO concentration in the reformate to the fuel cell.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette – Lafayette, LA

High Performance Metal-Supported SOFC System for Range Extension of Commercial Aviation — $2,263,000

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will design and optimize an energy storage and power generation (ESPG) system for aircraft propulsion. The proposed system will consist of optimally sized fuel-to-electric power conversion devices; metal-supported solid oxide fuel cells (MS-SOFCs) and turbogenerators using carbon-neutral synfuel. The design concept will ensure adequate propulsive thrust and system power for a future airplane configuration by optimizing the ESPG and component performance, especially the synfuel-powered MS-SOFC. The team will use innovative fabrication techniques for high-performance, ultra-low weight, and low-cost MS-SOFC stacks. They will also develop reforming catalysts for synfuel and biojet fuel.

ASCEND—Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives

Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station — College Station, TX

Multi-Physical Co-Design of Next Generation Axial Motors for Aerospace Applications — $1,300,000

Texas A&M will focus on the design, fabrication, and testing of a lightweight and ultra-efficient electric powertrain for aircraft propulsion to reduce the energy costs and emissions of aviation. The team’s technology will reach peak power density and efficiency via (1) an axial flux motor with lightweight carbon fiber reinforced structural material, (2) a GaN multilevel inverter, (3) a thermally conductive nanocomposite electrical insulation, and (4) a two-phase thermal management system with zeolite thermal energy storage to absorb the excess heat generated during takeoff. Each subsystem is designed for tight integration with the other subsystems to minimize weight.

Hyper Tech Research Inc. — Columbus, OH

Cryo Thermal Management of High Power Density Motors and Drives — $2,910,479

Hyper Tech Research Inc., aims to design and demonstrate a multi-MW, high-efficiency, and high-power density integrated electric propulsion motor, drive, and thermal management system that meets the performance requirements of future hybrid electric, single-aisle passenger aircraft. The proposed technology incorporates an advanced and high-performance induction electric machine with a novel advanced thermal management techniques for synergistic cooling that safely uses cryogenic bio-LNG as the energy source for power generation and a large thermal-battery cooling system to provide a highly compact, light, and efficient thermal management system capability throughout all the different flight phases of a commercial narrow-body aircraft. If successful, the system will allow for a cost-effective motor capable of operating at a higher current density compared with existing conventional non-cryogenic motors without using superconductors.

NASA X-57 electric airplane flying, Image courtesy of NASA

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