Clean Hydrogen from Dirty Sources

Proton Technologies of Calgary, Canada has a startling approach to obtaining clean hydrogen – extraction from some of the dirtiest sources on earth.  Considering the company plans to pull hydrogen from fairly filthy tar sands, their Hygenic Earth Energy almost seems like a misnomer.

Tar sands oil extraction has been enormously controversial, with issues including arboreal forest destruction, native tribal displacement, and air and water pollution.

Proton hopes to ameliorate these problems in Alberta and elsewhere with adherence to this mission statement: “To rapidly transform energy systems worldwide—profitably and sustainably—might sound like a dream.  However it is entirely reasonable, perhaps inevitable, if you accept…

“Four Key Premises:

“1. Hydrogen is the foundation to a sustainable energy future

“2. The high cost and carbon emissions from hydrogen production are the only remaining obstacles

“3. Proton’s hygenic earth energy eliminates these obstacles

“4. The massive existing hydrogen market allows for rapid commercialization.”

Testing Their Premises

To develop their dream and test the real-world implications of their process, Proton acquired the Superb (the trade name) air injection test facility near Kerrobert, Saskatchewan.  The facility will enable Proton to “de-risk” technology development and improve timelines and cost efficiencies.

The site will enable Proton to steam heat residual carbon deposits (oil, natural gas) and extract only hydrogen while leaving fossil fuels in the ground.  Seeming a bit like fracking, the process is not intended to crack underground rocks, but to extract hydrogen.  Proton describes is thus: “By injecting oxygen into oil wells to combust the trapped hydrocarbons, Proton can generate enough heat in the process to produce hydrogen gas. This process leaves carbon sources trapped beneath the Earth’s surface in the form of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and other gases, while removing only hydrogen gas.

Proton’s Dr. Ian Gates, also of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Calgary, explains, “There are vast oil sand reservoirs in several countries, with huge fields in Alberta in Canada, but also in Venezuela and other countries.”

Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies says “This technique can draw up huge quantities of hydrogen while leaving the carbon in the ground. When working at production level, we anticipate we will be able to use the existing infrastructure and distribution chains to produce H2 for between 10 and 50 cents per kilo. This means it potentially costs a fraction of gasoline for equivalent output”. This compares with current H2 production costs of around $2/kilo. Around 5% of the H2 produced then powers the oxygen production plant, so the system more than pays for itself.”

With greater public availability and such low prices, companies such as ZeroAvia would be able to offer low-cost aerial taxis at previously unheard of rates while avoiding the 100LL smog that threatens private aviation’s future.

Hidden (So Far) Distribution

With only 50 (up from 31 three years ago) publicly-available hydrogen fueling stations in the US – mostly in California – and one in Canada, finding H2 for your fuel cell car or airplane may seem a dim prospect.  Commercial and municipal sources seem to abound, though, according to an Energy Department publication, State of the States: Fuel Cells in America 2016, 7th Edition Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The current administration has not updated this report, which used to be updated on a more regular basis.

Extending the future of far-flung oil and gas fields without expanding their polluting influence on the atmosphere would certainly seem worth exploring.  A seemingly unlimited resource awaits, along with a cleaner future.

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ZeroAvia Counts on Hydrogen

Tucked away in the quiet little airport at Hollister, California, ZeroAvia has stealthily been developing a hydrogen-powered Piper Malibu, and flying it for the last six months.  It sounds like a regular aircraft taking off and passing overhead, even with its two 130 kilowatt (174.26 horsepower) electric motors. ZeroAvia claims 275 kW (369 hp) for the pair.  From the videos, propeller noise seems to be much the same as a conventional, internal-combustion powered Malibu, but lacks the added noise of the engine.  Piper M-series aircraft are normally powered by a Teledyne Continental Motors TSIO-520BE engine rated at 310 hp (230 kW).

ZeroAvia’s 2-ton, 6-seat test platform is the largest zero-emissions aircraft flying, according to the company

Valery Miftakhov, ZeroAvia’s founder and CEO announced, “Right now we have an aircraft that’s six seats and 2 tons as an R&D demonstrator. Next year we’ll have a 20-seat aircraft and we’ll submit the design for [Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)] certification.  That’s what drives the 2022, 2023 timeline. At that point, we’re expecting to have certification and put the system into commercial service.”  The aircraft will have a range of 500 miles – commuter liner specs.

In response to your editor’s queries, Dr. Miftakhov (he has a PhD in physics) wrote that we will learn more about ZeroAvia’s partners (including motor suppliers) in the next few weeks.

Twin motors drive single propeller, provide redundancy for safety

An even bigger problem faces H2-powered aircraft, however, and ZeroAvia has a plan to counter it.

The Big Hangup – From Where Do We Get H2?

Dr.  Miftakhov explained, “…Providing a path to clean hydrogen is one of the key components of our vision. We are working with a number of fueling partners to set up a network of on-site hydrogen electrolysis facilities powered by on-site or near-site renewable electricity. In Southwestern USA, it would likely be solar, in Norway – hydro, in UK – wind, etc, etc.”

He has already worked with distributed electric power systems, founding and leading eMotorWerks, “a world leader in EV charging stations and grid-smart charging.”  Enel acquired the company in 2017.  Many of ZeroAvia’s team members were with eMotorWerks, with others bringing expertise from Tesla, BMW, gas producer Air Liquide and NVIDIA, a firm specializing in computer hardware, software, and artificial intelligence development.  Peter Fairley, writing in IEEE’s Spectrum, notes that this leadership gives credibility to the enterprise.

A Unique Business Plan

The Spectrum article explains the firm’s unique business plan.  “Rather than build airplanes, ZeroAvia plans to lease its powertrain and also supply hydrogen fuel to aircraft manufacturers or airlines. ‘We’re targeting power levels that are in use today and we are able to utilize the airframes that exist today, with minor modifications,’ says Miftakhov.”

Larger Hw-fueled craft might store hydrogen in pressurized tanks on wing-mounted pylons

With hydrogen weighing in at one pound for the equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline (which weighs about six pounds), the potential weight savings is an obvious draw for the elemental fuel.  Storage containers can reduce some of that advantage, but modern carbon fiber or other composite materials can reduce that weight.

After sorting out development of the Malibu-sized craft, ZeroAvia plans on powering a larger craft in the commuter-liner size range.  Miftakhov’s schedule is a rapid one, and we can look forward to seeing his leased powerplants flying overhead in the next few years if all goes well.

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Researchers at University of California at Berkeley announced a record in thermophotovoltaic efficiency, now at 29 percent, but with a few tweaks, soon to be at 50 percent.  This is great news for small drones, which could stay up for days, but possibly not a be-all, end-all for larger, more conventional electric aircraft.  Let’s examine the potential and the pitfalls involved.

Berkeley researchers think their breakthrough could result in “new photovoltaic engine”

The researchers’ “groundbreaking physical insight” and “novel design” applies thermophotovoltaic principles that are “an ultralight alternative power source.”  Eli Yablonovitch, professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ““Thermophotovoltaics are compact and extremely efficient for a wide range of applications, from those that require as little as 100 watts, [such as] a lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle, to 100 megawatts, [providing] electricity for 36,000 homes. In comparison, a 100-megawatt combined cycle power plant is massive,”

Expanding on work he and his students published in 2011, Yablonovitch took a counter-intuitive approach to making more efficient solar cells.  Past efforts focused on increasing the number of photons that a cell absorbs. The paper notes, “Absorbed sunlight in a solar cell produces electrons that must be extracted from the cell as electricity. Those electrons that are not extracted fast enough, decay and release their energy. If that energy is released as heat, it reduces the solar cell’s power output. Miller’s calculations showed that if this released energy exits the cell as external fluorescence, it would boost the cell’s output voltage.”

It’s All Done with Mirrors

Berkeley reflective solar cell.  Graphite ribbon (glowing bar) heating the thermophotovoltaic cell sitting under it. (Photo by Luis M. Pazos Outόn, UC Berkeley)

“This is the central counter-intuitive result that permitted efficiency records to be broken,” Yablonovitch says.  In current efforts,   Heat generated by the absorption of photons lowers the efficiency of the solar cell – so Berkeley researchers exploit the heat rather than trying to get rid of it.

Mirror bounces heat to thermal emitter and recovers power

They place a “highly reflective” mirror within the cell and reflect low-energy infrared photons back to their source, extracting the otherwise wasted energy these photons possess.  It increases the voltage of the cell, but also generates heat at around 1,207° C (2204.6° F).  The current 29.1-percent efficiency can be raised to 50-percent, according to researchers.

It Won’t Fly Your Airplane – Yet

About 93 Watts of solar energy fall on each square foot of the earth’s surface, according to answers.com.  That’s if the sun is directly overhead and the sky is clear, of course.  Engineers use an average of 1,000 Watts per square meter for calculating solar panel sizes.  Let’s look at factors that lower that number.

Martin Koxxy (l) and Richard Steeves with Martin’s Quark e-Gull.  Both their e-Gulls are powered by Zero electric motorcycle motors

As an example, friends Richard Steeves in Madison, Wisconsin and Martin Koxxy built, own and fly Zero Motorcycle-powered e-Gulls designed by Mark Beierle.  They have investigated putting solar cells on the wings (both use the 28-foot version offered by Beierle).  Their aircraft have about 133 square feet of wing area.  120 square feet of 29.1-percent efficient solar cells would collect 11,160 Watts (11.16 kilowatts) and under the best possible conditions generate 3.25 kilowatts.  Your editor has seen Richard’s rough calculations for the e-Gull, showing the 28-foot span requires about 8.1 kilowatts to remain in level flight at its best lift:drag ratio.  (We’ll have an expanded and updated set of calculations soon.)

50-percent efficient solar cells promised by Berkeley would go a long way toward increasing range for these small machines, but would not keep them in sustained flight.  If the design’s liquid cooling can contain the high heat these cells generate, they would be very helpful in extending the range of aircraft, automobiles, and boats.  Smaller machines would seem to have an advantage at this point in the development cycle.

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Six years ago, we ran a story on hydrogen fuel-cell powered bikes that could travel limited distances, and used canisters of fresh hydrogen to quickly replenish the bike’s energy.   Pragma Industries has introduced a much-improved version of that bike, with range up to 150 kilometers (93 miles).  A pedelec (the motor kicks in when the cyclist pedals), the bike has a unique look and a compact propulsion system.

 

The system consists of a Brose 36 Volt motor, a 150 Watt PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell, and 150 Watt-hours of lithium-ion batteries in the bike’s down tube.  Pragma has a large amount of material on its technologies, including a helpful explanation of fuel cells and their operation, and a great collection of scientific papers on fuel-cell related topics.

 

Business Insider reports, “The firm’s Alpha bike runs for about 100 km (62 miles) on a two-liter tank of hydrogen, a range similar to an electric bike, but a refill takes only minutes while e-bikes take hours to charge. One kilo of hydrogen holds about 600 times more energy than a one-kilo lithium battery.

“With bike’s range limited by the size of the hydrogen tank, Pragma is also working on a bike that will convert plain water into hydrogen aboard the bike, using a chemical reaction between water and aluminum or magnesium powder to produce hydrogen gas.

“’In the next two-three years we want to enter the consumer market and massively increase the scale of our operations,’ said Forte.”

Fuel cell for bicycle is no bigger than its motor

Because these bikes cost around $7,500 (recently lowered to $5,000) and a charging station costs $36,000, most private owners will opt out.  That’s not part of Pragma’s business plan at this point, anyway.  They prefer to see to organizations such as Engie Cofely, a French company specializing in helping municipalities and public facilities transfer their energy needs into clean alternatives.  Pragma recently sold 200 of their H2 bikes to the organization, along with a few charging stations.

Bike and charger might be too costly for individuals but might be good investments for green businesses and municipalities

Alain Colle, Director commercial ENGIE Cofely and president of ENGIE Cofely H2 France, shares the plan. “ENGIE Cofely wants to actively participate in the launch of the cycling industry hydrogen through this industrial and commercial partnership with the French start-up Pragma Industries. This sector completes the French ecosystem of hydrogen, to support ever more carbon-free mobility.   Thanks to this strategic drive and the involvement of ENGIE Cofely in this project, Pragma Industries will be able to demonstrate the relevance of light mobility to hydrogen in an international context and pass an industrial milestone. To date, our hydrogen bike is the most affordable and accessible H2 mobility solution to the greatest number. I am very happy that ENGIE Cofely is joining Pragma Industries around a vision and a common ambition: to democratize hydrogen”

So What?

Obviously, two liters or hydrogen generating a 250 Watts won’t be of interest to the aeronautical community, or will it?  Brian Allen flew across the English Channel in 1979 on about that much leg-generated power.  Think of H2 pedelecs taking leisurely turns in the clouds. It could happen.  Watch this space.

Beyond that H2 power is imminently scalable, and systems that could power even electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) machines are in development.

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Linear Laboratories operates (if you take their video at near face value) out of a barn in Texas and partners with Abtery in Sweden.   The partnership is significant, since Abtery is working on a Swedish regional airliner Elise (“Elektrisk Lufttransport i Sverige” or Electric Aviation in Sweden). The project is funded by the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova. And has multiple partners including Chalmers University.  Their goal is to apply the HET (Hunstable Electric Turbine) technology developed by Linear to real-world uses.

Swedish Partners

Anders Forslund, researcher at Chalmers in Gothenburg, Sweden, leads the development project Elise.  “We started a little later than they did in other countries but now we’re up and running probably faster than they do. Intensive research is ongoing around the world for a transition from fossil fuels to electric power in aviation, especially in countries such as the United States, China and Germany. It’s all about small start-up companies to big aircraft manufacturers like Boeing.”

Sören Granath  of Swedish Radio reports, “The hope is that the Swedish aviation industry will find its own niche in international competition. First, to develop a plane that seats eight passengers for regional flights of up to 400 kilometers (248 miles).

Elise, the Swedish regional airliner being developed with Abtery and American partner Linear Laboratories.  Small, high-torque motors would fit design

“The schedule is nailed: First a fully electrical test plan in 2.5 years and in 2026 the first certified Swedish manufacturer plane will go in domestic traffic. For safety reasons, first a hybrid variant.

“- With these 400 kilometers we will be able to cover about a third of domestic travel in Sweden.”

Flux, Funding and the Future

Having just earned $4.5 million from a seed funding round, Linear seems poised to develop its prototypes into production models.  Linear claims their motor delivers more power on lower voltage, at least partly because it has a great flux density than more conventional motors.

Most existing motors rely on radial flux or axial flux to generate power.  Until a few decades ago, most motors ran a rotor (the part that spins around) inside a stator (the part that remains stationary).  Then, English inventor Cedric Lynch redesigned the arrangement of magnets and coils onto two flat plates facing one another.  This “pancake” type motor gave the advantage of mechanically increasing the torque possible.  (Please note this is your much-challenged editor’s attempt to make all this understandable for himself.)

Comparison of radial flux (A) and axial flux (B) motors. HET combines both and adds its own twists

Father and son Fred and Brad Hunstable have combined axial and radial flux (they may object to this gross oversimplification) and added the ability to vary the phasing of the motor.  The HET, “Produces twice the torque of a standard permanent magnet motor and three times the power and is more efficient while doing it,” according to their interview with CNET.  The motor is essentially four rotors working in a complex flux generation system.

Linear Laboratoies’ HET appears conventional, but internal flux paths are anything but.  Motor can be fabricated on conventional motor production lines with conventional materials, though

 

HET’s performance with readily available materials will enable the use of low-cost metals rather than high-priced and often unobtainable rare earth minerals – many of which are controlled by China. Being able avoid the consequences of trade wars and have a steady supply chain are enviable benefits.  The Hunstables plan some near-term applications and some longer-term possibilities.

“The company has been hard at work making prototypes of its motors for use in various industries. The first transportation application we’ll probably see will be in micromobility — think scooters and e-bikes — as early as 2020, followed by electric cars in 2021. It’s also possible that we could see HETs employed in larger applications like heavy-duty trucks and even trains later on.”

If Liner can attain this development schedule, we’ll look forward to some e-bikes doing wheelies by next year, and possibly some budget electric cars that can go head-to-head with Tesla’s Roadster the year after that.

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An Eccentric Problem

It seems quaint and charming, typically British as we used to understand them from vintage films.  The idea of taking a 1.7 mile flight from Westray in the Orkney Islands to Papa Westray within visual range may seem a bit eccentric.  The landing on the beach at low tide seems even more so.  Loganair, which serves the Orkney Islands, experiences many ups and downs in a day, their longest flight taking a mere 15 minutes.

Twice-a-day flights between the Westrays can be disrupted by North Sea weather, as can boat passages between the islands, which often take two turbulent hours.  Obligingly, the airline offers flex tickets good for essentially – whenever.  Fares seem reasonable, though, a one-way trip either way costing 7.25 Pounds ($8.72).

Beyond the scheduling difficulties, operation of air-cooled engines for such short flights does not promote long periods between overhauls.  Electric motors are ideal for such duties.

A Reasonable Solution

Cranfield University in the United Kingdom specializes in graduate level aeronautical design and testing, so the idea of electrifying the world’s shortest airline flight seems like a great opportunity to attack a real-world problem.  Named “Project Fresson” after Scottish aviation pioneer Earnest Fresson, the program will electrify the carrier’s two twin-turboprop Norman-Britten Islanders.  Project leaders hope to gain EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) approval by 2021 or 2022 for the world’s first commercial electric air transport routes.

As reported here recently, Harbour Air in Vancouver, BC and Seattle, Washington is striving toward that honor, with the possibility or flying their first electric DeHavilland Beavers and Twin Otters by year’s end.

Soft field landing training is of great importance for Loganair pilots.  Twin Otters are larger than Islanders

Loganair, in the meantime has been negotiating with “local government organizations” including “positive discussions” with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HITRANS ( Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership) and HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd.)

As quaint as a 50-second crossing may seem, it is of great import to the islanders.  The Scotsman reports, “James Stockan, leader of Orkney Islands council, said: ‘Our inter-island air service provides a lifeline for our more remote communities and is subsidized by the council.”  At the economic level, “We are keen to see if this project could significantly reduce the amount of expensive aviation fuel required to run the service and, most importantly, if this can be done safely.”

Loganair Islander flies past Old Man of Hoy, an iconic Orkney site, in this vintage photograph

The Economist adds, Orkney is already a leader in green energy. It generates more wind power than it consumes—it sells electricity to the national grid—has the highest rate of electric-vehicle ownership in Scotland and is experimenting with batteries to store excess energy. The council is working on a scheme to introduce hydrogen-powered ferries in 2021. If all goes according to plan, Loganair’s e-planes should take off the following year.”

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Atea Looks Like a Cessna Overhead

French company Ascendance Flight Technologies offers a four-seat design that combines hybrid propulsion with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, and then scoots around on conventional wings.  Etea’s technology seems a lot like that of Pipistrel’s 801 or several other eVTOLs.

Some Historical Perspective

The design team at Ascendance comes from Airbus, and claims to have made the first electric aircraft flight across the English Channel with the E-Fan 2.0.  Your editor offers a few minor inclusions.

Ascendance founders with model of their creation – enthusiastic, to say the least

First, as we reported on October 10, 2009, “Gerard Thevenot, a long-time championship-level hang-glider pilot, celebrated the centennial of Louis Bleriot’s flight across la Manche by flying his hydrogen-powered La Mouette hang glider over roughly the same route Bleriot took between Calais and Dover on August 6, 2009.  Missing the centenary by a few days (Bleriot made the hop on July 25, 1909), Thevenot took an hour and seven minutes to duplicate the trip Bleriot managed in 37 minutes.”  It was an Eck/Geiger propelled machine, powered by H2.

Six years later, we reported the following:

“Michael Coates, the U. S. General Distributor for Pipistrel Aircraft, sent the following missive from Ivo Boscarol, General Manager and Founder of the Slovenian company, now in its 26th year.

‘Dear All,

‘It is my pleasure to inform you that our friend Hugues Duval after reading the information that Pipistrel was blocked in flying across the English Channel today became the first electric aircraft to cross the English Channel in his CRI-CRI E-Cristaline Electric aircraft.

(Editor’s note: this may have been an unofficial “first” because of the unconventional method of launching the Cri-Cri, but that might make it even more exciting.)

‘From the available information that we have, shortly after the flight announcement, an order was issued to stop him but he did not respect it and he successfully crossed the channel this evening, 9. July 2015 in the first flight over the channel with electric powered aircraft in the history .  (It is unclear whether French and British authorities issued the order to stop, or Airbus.)”

Despite the controversy, E-Fan did indeed cross the Channel.  At that stage of electric aircraft development, it was a noteworthy achievement and E-Fan itself was a huge leap in battery-powered aircraft development.

Atea

The four co-founders of Ascendence explain their new machine.  “Our first product, a cutting-edge vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft will offer best in class safety and performances based on our unique and patented hybrid propulsion system.

eVTOL Atea will look like a Cessna passing overhead

“Our aircraft will blend into existing infrastructures, with low noise signature and low operational costs to make urban air mobility a reality without having to revolutionize the urban landscape.”  They don’t provide many details, but promise Atea will enjoy “low noise, low operational costs, long range,” and be a proper hybrid propulsion sky taxi.

Electric VTOL News helps with additional information.  A gas-turbine powered machine, Atea hauls a pilot and three passengers, has three electric lift fans with one in the nose ahead of the passenger compartment and one in each wing.  It should have a cruise speed of 200 kilometers per hour (124 mph) and a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles) according to the site.

Considering the success of the E-Fan, the partners newest creation should perform as planned,  and will add a reassuringly familiar look to the urban skyscape.

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A L.E.A.P. Forward for Electro.Aero

Heady Ambitions

Joshua Portlock, Co-founder, Director and Chief Technology Officer for Electro.Aero in Perth, Australia, has a heady set of ambitions.  He and Rob Belaga presented a simple electric vertical takeoff and landing machine, FlyKart, at two different symposia in northern California two years ago, and presented a refined version for the Boeing GoFly competition shortly thereafter.  They’ve made it to the finals of the $2,000,000 contest and will be in the February, 2020 flyoff.

In the meantime, he’s started a flight training program using Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro trainer, and is partnering with an almost bewildering  set of industry, government and academic leaders, including Ampaire, Bye Aerospace, E/S/Aero, NASA, Pipistrel, University of Western Australia, and Zero Emissions Vehicles Australia.  Joshua gives a rundown in his down-under TED Talk.

Working with ducted fan systems leads to a redesign of a Diamond DA-40 that ditches the internal combustion engine in the nose for a battery pack.  One ducted fan behind and on each side of the passenger compartment provide thrust and theoretically much lower operating costs.

L. E. A. P.

Electro.Aero’s Light Electric Aviation Propulsion consists of a series of trademarked components according to their web site:

Electro.Aero Airlink™: Cross-platform device management software, enabling remote data reporting and hardware performance optimization.

Electro.Aero B.E.M.™: Battery Energy Modules

Electro.Aero Charger™: “Compact, lightweight superchargers optimized for aircraft use and designed in compliance with the forthcoming SAE standards.”

Electro.Aero Drive™: Liquid or air-cooled electronic speed controller.

Electro.Aero EMS™: “Electrical Management System includes integrated touchscreen avionics, digital throttle, pilot interface and telemetry.”

Electro.Aero Fan™: Carbon fibre electric ducted fan, presumably tuned to individual aircraft use.

Electro.Aero Motor™: Airworthy electric motor in compliance with ASTM standards.

This full range of motors, controllers and accessories emulates the business model of Geiger Engineering in Germany, which offers a full line of ultralight electric motors, controllers and support accessories.

In a country where the highways literally melt from high temperatures, electric aircraft make a special kind of sense, not flagging because of thin, hot air. Aerodynamics remain the same, but motors can continue to make full power even when their internal-combustion rivals cannot.  Besides, it makes it easier to get to that island off the coast.

And for those who can’t wait to get in the water, Electro Aero has a companion company, Electro Nautic, that produces an electric hydrofoil jet-ski type of boat.  This little device seems to combine boating and flying in a novel way.

Joshua and his team are industrious, indeed.

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Electric Colt Introduced at Oshkosh

Texas Aircraft hails from its development and production facility at South Texas Regional Airport in Hondo, Texas.  Designed in Brazil, their Colt Light Sport Aircraft is built by American veterans.  Constrained by LSA design criteria, the craft is the high-wing representation of what we have come to expect from the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer, the Vashon Ranger, and others of the type.   It has the almost mandatory Rotax engine, but will soon fly fume-free with a Siemens motor.

With the two-seat aircraft already flight tested in Brazil and its American version being built and flown here, the Colt’s introduction at AirVenture included a glimpse of its alternate power plant, a Siemens SP-55D producing 72 kilowatts (96.5 horsepower) AT 3,000 rpm.

Electric Colt with Siemens motor at Oshkosh

Matheus Grande, co-founder of the Hondo-based firm, told Flying magazine, “The availability to offer a version of our new Colt LSA powered by a new-generation Siemens eAircraft electric motor will give both private owners and flight schools the option of having an airplane that’s not only fun to fly but will also be extremely environmentally friendly.”

Dr. Frank Anton, Executive Vice President of eAircraft at Siemens, expressed his happiness with the project.  “We are very proud to be able to support Texas Aircraft with our systems and we are confident projects like this are key to developing electric flight further.”  Besides the motor,   Siemens eAircraft will provide the system’s inverter and auxiliary control components.

The Colt is a well-crafted and stout airplane, as well, based on the videos from Hondo.  At $165,000, it may be a bit pricier than the competition, but seems be replete with all the modern and luxury touches to satisfy a demanding market.  With a four-seater coming in the near future, Texas Aircraft seems to have a great future planned.

With Rolls-Royce assuming ownership of the Siemens electric flight program, obtaining service and spare parts should be guaranteed.

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Diane Simard, Senior Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors for Bye Aerospace, sends your editor occasional news from that company.  The latest involves a collaboration with OXIS Energy in England to develop new Lithium-Sulfur battery cell technology that shows great, and (even better) near-term promise.

Ready to start in September, the project will develop cells that will, ”Achieve the higher energy density required for such aircraft,” referring to Bye’s eFlyer 2 and eFlyer 4 light aircraft.  A big jump over currently available batteries, OXIS is now evaluating cells that produce 400 Watt-hours per kilogram, with a promised leap to 500 kW-hr by next year.  The best lithium-ion cells at the pack level available now manage 260 W-hr/kg.

Huw W. Hampson-Jones, CEO of OXIS Energy, discusses his company’s unique approach to battery development and what this portends for future flight and general electric mobility.  Explaining OXIS’s applications, he adds, “Aviation is one of OXIS’ target markets, and in the first instance, Regional Rapid Air Taxi Transportation. A key measure of OXIS’ suitability is to be able to consistently produce cells in excess of 400 Wh/kg, which are already undergoing evaluation. OXIS expects to achieve 500 Wh/kg by early 2020. Our Li-S cells and battery systems are ideally suited for aviation. They are over 50-percent lighter than the current Li-ion cell and battery systems, with the winning formula of a high energy cell at the power required. The use of the same cell format across batteries will also help our customers to minimize cost and improve serviceability.”

Consisting of a lithium metal anode, a sulfur-based cathode, a safe electrolyte protecting the lithium metal, and a “state of the art” separator, the cells have the advantage of allowing full depth of discharge (DOD).  This gives a 20-percent endurance advantage over Li-ion cells.

Structure of lithium-sulfur cell

An available and “already proven” pouch cell provides 2.1 nominal Volts at a typical capacity of 10 to 35 Amp-hours.  OXIS will make the pouches in two versions: One disadvantage might be the 100 charge-discharge cycles (full DOD?) available from the pouches.  That might make them a little pricey.  We might assume (always dangerous) that cell life will improve with further development.

  • High energy density cell (>500 Wh/kg) for small electric aircrafts (2 seater), UAV and High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS).
  • High power cell (>400 Wh/kg) for automotive applications and electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

George Bye, CEO of Bye Aerospace, said, “New Li-S battery cells from Oxis have the potential to greatly enhance the quality, cost and performance of eFlyer 4 and our other future aircraft projects. Our collaboration with OXIS is separate from the current eFlyer 2 agreements and intentions we have with confirmed and our future supply chain partners.  Bye Aerospace is working with Oxis on the Li-S battery cell characteristics to significantly improve our eFlyer 4 and future air taxi aircraft designs’ performance.  The average age of the global market for Turboprop fleet is 28 years. OXIS has the potential to provide a Li-S battery cell that is truly a game-changer.”

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