On the occasion of the 3rd European Conference on More Electric Aircraft being held in Toulouse (south west France), representatives of the sector presented their latest advances and challenges in the field. The first observation is that, due to the many challenges to be overcome, an all-electric airliner is not for the immediate future.
Colin Smith, Director of Engineering - Rolls-Royce: "It would take a hundred years, in my view, before you replace kerosene as the prime fuel with pure batteries. A simple comparison in energy is that 1 kg of kerosene has about the same energy capability as 50 kg of lithium-ion."
For their part, Safran, Honeywell and Airbus are working on ‘‘green taxiing’’, the electrical system fitted to the main undercarriage which allows an aircraft to move on the ground without using its engines and thus fuel. One option that should reach the single-aisle aircraft market soon.
Alain Sauret, Chief Executive Officer - Labinal Power Systems (Safran Group): "There is great demand from Airlines for this system, and as a result we are finalizing the technical definition for introduction onto the market in three or four years’ time."
Clean Sky 2, the new European aviation research programme, which has a budget of € 4 billion, will also conduct research on new technologies hitherto unused in aviation.
Eric Dautriat, Executive Director – Clean Sky: "There are also prospects for the use of fuel cells for onboard energy in aircraft. There is also another initiative parallel to ours, that of fuel cells and hydrogen, which Clean Sky is looking at with a view to how fuel cells could be used in airplanes of the future."
Today in civil aviation, as seen on the Boeing 787, many hydraulic or pneumatic systems have switched to electric ; the main benefits being weight and cost savings, notably in maintenance.
A trend that is expected to accelerate further in the coming decades, allowing commercial aircraft to become more and more electrically powered, even though they will never be entirely.