UCLA researchers Richard Kaner and Maher El-Kady, “Have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars.”  Kaner and El-Kady have devised many low-budget approaches to capturing and exploiting energy, such as their method of “burning” supercapacitors on a personal computer DVD.  Their newest accomplishment, according to Kaner, “Could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.”

It would be useful in urban or rural areas, or even on remote battlefields, giving users the ability to make both electricity and fuel from the same device. In cities, it could store surplus energy from electrical grids, and in more remote locations, allow energy generation and fuel creation “off the grid.”

The pair’s replica of the device looks like a designer electronic gizmo encased in a turquoise plastic case.  It uses inexpensive, abundant elements like nickel, iron and cobalt to produce both electrical energy and make hydrogen fuel.  This two-fold output could power things in real time and store fuel for later use.

 

Kaner and El-Kady’s device in small, prototype size.  “People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” Kaner said. “Now you can make both electricity and fuel with a single device.”  Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Kaner and El-Kady added a third electrode to the two normally found on fuel cells and supercapacitors.  Normal positive and negative electrodes are supplemented by a dual-acting item that acts as both a supercapacitor (for energy storage) and as a water splitter separating hydrogen and oxygen in a process called water electrolysis.

UCLA explains, “All three electrodes connect to a single solar cell that serves as the device’s power source, and the electrical energy harvested by the solar cell can be stored in one of two ways: electrochemically in the supercapacitor or chemically as hydrogen.”

An added bonus, “The device… produces hydrogen fuel in an environmentally friendly way. Currently, about 95 percent of hydrogen production worldwide comes from converting fossil fuels such as natural gas into hydrogen — a process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the air,” according to El-Kady.

“’Hydrogen energy is not ‘green’ unless it is produced from renewable sources,’ El-Kady said. He added that using solar cells and abundantly available elements to split water into hydrogen and oxygen has enormous potential for reducing the cost of hydrogen production and that the approach could eventually replace the current method, which relies on fossil fuels.”

Device can charge internal supercapacitor while also splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen

To increase the device’s surface area exposed to water, the team designed the electrodes at the nanoscale — thousands of times thinner than the thickness of a human hair.  This increases the amount of hydrogen the device can produce and also stores more charge in the supercapacitor. Kaner says it will be possible to make versions larger than the prototype shown here because the components are inexpensive.

Mir Mousavi, a co-author of the paper and a professor of chemistry at Iran’s Tarbiat Modares University, says, “For hydrogen cars to be widely used, there remains a need for a technology that safely stores large quantities of hydrogen at normal pressure and temperature, instead of the pressurized cylinders that are currently in use.”.

Kaner compares the combination supercapacitor/water splitter to the first time a phone, web browser and camera were combined into a smartphone.  He thinks this may even lead to new applications the researchers haven’t considered yet.

The paper’s other co-authors are graduate student Yasin Shabangoli and postdoctoral scholars Abolhassan Noori and Mohammad Rahmanifar, all of Tarbiat Modares.

Their paper, “An integrated electrochemical device based on earth-abundant metals for both energy storage and conversion,” appears in the September 27 issue of Energy Storage Materials.

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A Controversy for Starters

Skeptics abound concerning the current spate of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) machines.  The latest entry in the competition comes from the trio of Erik Lindbergh, Eric Bartsch, and Pat Anderson of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  Their Verdego eight-rotor machine looks a bit like the Airbus A3 Vahana, but has pusher, rather than puller, propellers on the rear wing.

Verdego is compact, allowing a multitude in the hangar

On his Linked In page, Bartsch jumps into an ongoing fray with his article, “The Inevitability of Short-Range Urban Aviation – Why I’m Betting Against the “Flying Uber” Skeptics.” It takes aim at the opposing point of view in “Going Direct: On the Insanity of Flying Ubers,” by Plane & Pilot writer Robert Goyer.  To shorten the two arguments to their most primal levels, Eric Bartsch thinks sky taxis are coming and are inevitable.  Goyer thinks the idea is insane and not supported by even basic physics or available mechanical systems.  He doesn’t acknowledge an advantage to having a sky Uber drop down next to you and carrying you away.

Bartsch is a bit more optimistic on all fronts, although he starts by acknowledging Goyer’s outlook in acknowledging the decades’ long string of broken promises in the “flying car” realm.  But things have changed.  Bartsch and his two partners are not novices, having fielded a hybrid airplane for Embry Riddle in the 2011 Green Flight Challenge sponsored by Google.

They’ve also promoted electric aviation through their Powering Imagination symposium and the development of an electrically-powered DA-36 in the school’s Eagle Flight Research Center.  The EFRC folks, with Erik Lindbergh, ran up the eSpirit of St. Louis at AirVenture 2017 for FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and a crowd of admirers.

The Electric Game Changer

Erik advised your editor then of something bigger and better on the horizon, and just released a more full-blown rendition of the team’s ambitious next step.  As noted above, it’s similar to Vahana, but with its rear propellers (rotors) facing downward when the wing pivots to vertical mode.

Few details are available about the engine/generator, or the motors powering the rotors.  The team does see a number of possibilities for Verdego’s use, though: as a personal air taxi, an air ambulance, express cargo carrier, and for humanitarian relief efforts.

Eric Bartsch sees electric power as being the game changer that will make these dreams realities.  In his article, he argues that Goyer’s pessimism  is correct in its skepticism concerning a history of broken promises for these “flying cars.”  But, he explains, things are different now.  Interestingly, he points to Sao Paula, Brazil as, “An interesting glimpse into our future,” just as Airbus has for its VTOL prospects.

He points out that the city has, “500 private helicopters already in use, with a network of more than 400 helipads and around 700 daily flights. A helicopter can be thought of as version 1.0 of the “flying car.” It can go point-to-point without a need for airports, but its noise and cost aren’t ideal for the mass market. Sao Paulo continues to be an interesting exception that shows the potential for flying above surface congestion, but this model hasn’t scaled elsewhere in the world. Sao Paulo, Brazil is an interesting glimpse part way into our future.”

Three Ways Forward

Beyond electric power, Eric sees Technology, Customer Habits, and Geography as making the changes possible to “green” aerial transit.

Electric propulsion reduces noise (Eric has flown the Yuneec Greenwings aircraft he attempted to manufacture and distribute), a factor that keeps new airports and heliports from even being considered.  Electric propulsion “Fundamentally changes what an aircraft can do and what it looks like.”  Designers can’t just pop in an electric motor in place of the ICE unit.

He explains that a huge amount of airspace is available and unused now.  Compare the number of things you can run into while driving with those at 1,000 feet, for instance.  Compare the number of cars, trucks and buses around you with the total number of aircraft you see in the sky at any time.  (He wisely counsels not doing this while you are driving, but while as a passenger.)

Second, Eric looks at customer habits, asking, “How many of us were using Uber. Lyft, Didi Chuxing (China), Ola (India),” or the many on-line apps now available for that matter?”  Technology is adding to the range of choices.  Rather than investing (?) in a $50,000 to $100,000 vehicle, people now invest in a $500 smartphone and wait for their ride to show up.

You can have a driver pick you up in one of these thorugh OLA in India, and still be stuck in traffic

Waiting may be the downside of that equation.  Eric notes that “Premium on-demand transportation is still a disappointment.”  Paying more gets you “A nicer smelling car and driver, but it gets stuck in the same traffic bottlenecks with the same randomness of urban traffic to contend with.”  A half-million-dollar Verdego rising above it all for a $120 fare may make it all more civilized and worth every cent.  Eric compares it to riding on a $70 million 737 for $99.

Or you could rise above it all (for an extra fee)

Third, geography makes a counter-intuitive capping argument for the new mobility.  We’re moving to cities, and the dense urban environment is a playground for VTOL short-hop machines.  Private aviation took flight in post-WWII with little airplanes ideally suited to grass fields and country living.  The $100 hamburger is still a reality, hopping from one rural airport to another on weekends, but the new paradigm might be the $150 Uber flight to a distant skyscraper for an art opening or business meeting.  The objects of each type of flight set time vs. money at odds.

Circumstances are changing, and conflicts between more traditional pilots like Goyer and the futurists like Bartsch will sort themselves out.  Your editor knows change may be inevitable, but he still likes cruising with the side window and door open in a J-3 Cub over the forests and fields.  Both possibilities can be electric.

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Pipistrel Electrifies China

Taja Boscarol, Public Relations Manager for Slovenian aircraft company Pipistrel, announced the formal establishment of the fourth company of the Pipistrel Group at the Chamber of Commerce in Jurong City (Jiansu Province), China.

The new company, PIPISTREL ASIA-PACIFIC, General Aviation Technology Co. Ltd. was founded by Ivo Boscarol (51-percent owner) and Danny Wu Hao (49-percent).  Hao, as financial partner, will provide the capital investment required for the construction of Project Jurong.

Ivo Boscarol (left) and Danny Hu Hao sign documents in highly formal setting

The ownership of both Slovene companies, Pipistrel d.o.o. and Pipistrel Vertical Solutions (a new development under control of Tine Tomazic) remains 100-percent Slovenian as before.

As Ms. Boscarol’s press release relates, “From now on, the PIPISTREL ASIA-PACIFIC, General Aviation Technology Co. Ltd company is the general distributor of Pipistrel for China.

“It will be in charge for realization of the ‘Project Jurong’, the agreement about establishing an aviation and tourist center next to Jurong Lake national park. The agreement was signed between Pipistrel company and the government of the Jurong City on Friday, 1. December, in presence of His Excellency the Slovenian Ambassador in China, Mr. Janez Premože.”

Post-signing display of the formal partnership documents

The Jurong site will produce both the Alpha Electro trainer and the Panthera Hybrid.  Pipistrel d.o.o. will sell the technology and rights for production and sales for the two aircraft models to Pipistrel Asia-Pacific for distribution in 11 countries.

In the next two years, a new airport, aircraft factory, villas compound and an aviation university will be built in the Project Jurong Center, with its affiliated companies coming into play in the next few months.  The Pipistrel Asia Pacific group will be responsible for acquiring land, and constructing and managing of a 130-hectare (321 acre) airport complex, including infrastructure, tourist accommodations, and all supporting activities.

Pipistrel Alpha Electro production line in Slovenia will soon be duplicated in Jurong, China

The complex, located next to a highway connecting it to Jurong City (10 minutes away by car) and the international airport in Nanjing (30-minute drive), is within easy reach of worldwide connections.  In 2019, a direct airline connection to Maribor Airport in Slovenia will be available.  A nearby high-speed railway allows trips to Beijing in three hours.

This major step in international cooperation and the opening of a new market bodes well for the future of electric flight.

Note that Chinese news about this event refers to Pipistrel as the “bat company,” “bat” being the literal translation of the Slovenian word, “Pipistrel.”  The headline for this article reads, “Heavy! Jurong will ‘fly’, Slovenia Bats General Aviation aircraft manufacturing project settled in our city.”

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As many of your editor’s friends know, he is often lured to trolling the tabloids, looking for juicy bits about the royal family or Hollywood royalty.  Recently, while perusing the Daily Mail* for news of the upcoming Harry/Meaghan nuptials, he came across the big-headline news that three European power players – Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and Siemens, are collaborating on creating a testbed for a hybrid power system.

The artist rendering provided by Airbus on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 shows an Airbus e-FanX hybrid test plane. The aircraft will be flying with one electric turbofan motor and 3 conventional engines. The electric power for the electric engine is produced by a turbine within the plane that serves as a generator. (Airbus via AP)

The trio will take a Bae 146 four-engine regional jet, convert it to a hybrid demonstrator by 2020, and have a production plane in place by 2030.  The high-wing airplane has four turbofans in place now, but the partners will replace one with a Siemens two-megawatt electric motor powered by a Rolls-Royce two-megawatt generator in the plane’s cargo hold.

The UK paper reports, ”The companies said they were looking ahead to the European Union’s long-term goals of reducing CO2 emissions from aviation by 60 percent, as well as meeting noise and pollution limits that they said ‘cannot be achieved with technologies existing today.’

Left to right: Frank Anton, Head of Siemens eAircraft; Mark Cousin, Airbus Head of Demonstrators, and Paul Stein, Chief Technology Officer for Rolls-Royce, consolidate their partnership with a handshake: Photo courtesy Airbus

Other sources more normally associated with aviation news take a slightly more cautious view of the development.  MRO-Network.com, devoted to the maintenance, replacement, overhaul side of airline operation, backsteps: “Nonetheless, it is extremely unlikely that any standard commercial flight will use electric engines within the next few decades – at least until a quantum leap in battery technology delivers vastly superior power-to-weight ratios from the best current technology.

MRO explains the challenges ahead for the European trio.  “E-Fan X will investigate certain challenges of electric propulsion, including thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems and electromagnetic compatibility issues.

“Paul Eremenko, Airbus’ sometimes controversial head of technology, says the demonstrator ‘will pave the way to a hybrid single-aisle commercial aircraft that is safe, efficient, and cost-effective’”.

Efan-X diagram highlights layout of components, corporate responsibility for each

ATWonline.com (Air Transport World) explains, “The new powerplant follows a series of smaller demonstrators in recent years and the partners hope to fly it on a BAe 146 testbed, replacing one of the aircraft’s Avco Lycoming ALF 502 turbofans. A second engine may be replaced with another of the new electric motors once tests have provided sufficient confidence to do so.”  Although the not-to-scale drawing of the component layout doesn’t allow assessing how much space the two-megawatt system will require, one can foresee “real estate” issues in aircraft with four, or in one prediction, even eight hybrid electric units powering things.

ATW reports, “Rolls-Royce’s chief technology officer, Paul Stein, described the new class of motors as being an integral part of the ‘third generation of aviation.’

“Head of Siemens eAircraft, Frank Anton, added: ‘This large flying demonstrator will be a major step for eAircraft toward a hybrid-electric future.

“’Thanks to our existing drive systems for drones and ultralight and light sport aircraft, we are already involved in aviation.  Recently, we also presented a prototype motor for the CityAirbus, a flying taxi for use in urban areas.”’

AS ATW notes, “The three organizations are seeking to increase the pace of hybrid-electric development by maturing the technologies, safety and reliability involved.”  Aviation will be cleaner and quieter in the future, thanks to efforts such as this, Zunum’s and Jeff Engler’s Wright Electric.

*That such publications are reporting on this is evidence that electric aviation is making its presence known.

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Two Battery Fires in Self-Launching Sailplanes

Klaus Burhard publishes a wonderful news and blog site promoting ultralight sailplanes.  His German site has been the source for many blog entries by yours truly, and the latest items from Klaus are of concern to anyone involved with electric aircraft.

He has reported in the last week on a disturbing incident with a UK-based HPH glass-wing 304eS/Shark FES “self-starter,” or self-launching sailplane.  The airplane is a standard-class 15 meter (49.2 feet) wingspan plane.  As seen in the video below, The FES (Front Electric Sustainer) motor on the nose swings a propeller which folds into the front contours of the sailplane when not powering the plane.  When a pilot engages power, the rotation of the motor pushes the propeller blades out into the airstream.

Two battery packs engineered by FES nest in a compact area behind the pilot.  Each pack contains 28 high-power Kokam lithium-polymer batteries of 43 Amp-hours each wired in series to give 2.1 kilowatt-hours of energy.  Packs operate at a range of 90 to 118 Volts.  The father and son team of Matija and Luka Znidarsnic note that “Our latest GEN2 Battery packs have integrated BMS (Battery Management System[s]) and RADSOK high power quick connectors!”  FES contains the batteries and BMS in proprietary composite boxes.  Packs are designed for easy removal from the airplane for charging.

Arrangement of nose-mounted motor, battery packs behind pilot

 

A Really Hot Landing

Shortly after landing, an HPE glass-wing 304 eS/Shark FES sailplane “suffered a battery burn.”  The August 10, 2017 incident took place at Parham Airfield in Sussex, the UK.  According to Klaus Burkard’s blog.  “During the roll-out, the 55-year-old pilot smelled fire, while at the same time smoke was pouring into the cockpit from behind. The pilot was able to leave the aircraft uninjured after a [rolling to a] standstill.”

Fire blew hatch cover off on rollout. Flames were extinguished by foam-type chemical

“According to the PIC (pilot in command), there were no specific incidents throughout the flight that pointed to battery problems.  Only when putting on the [brake] he heard an unusual noise behind him.  Upon exiting the cockpit, he found that the battery compartment cover was missing and flames and smoke struck the battery compartment.  The detached battery compartment cover was later found near the touchdown point.  However, this had no fire damage, only the rear carbon locking tab was broken.  The cover was probably blown off as a result of a sudden increase in pressure inside the battery compartment.”

The pilot reported that in January, one of the battery boxes fell about 20 centimeters (eight inches) from his car to the ground.  He apparently saw no damage to the case at that time.  Because he did not mark or write down the ID for that battery pack, it was not possible after the fire to determine “whether the battery that had caught fire was the same one that had fallen out of the car before.”

An Earlier Incident

On May 27, 2017, at Benesov Airport in the Czech Republic, another 304 FES was dismantled and being rolled into a hangar following a recent landing.  The front battery pack burst into flames and caused considerable damage to the sailplane.  Both batteries were in the airplane and electrically connected to each other.  According to Klaus, the flight and operations manual for the sailplane requires disconnecting and separating the connecting cables when moving the airplane.  All switches were off, but the pilot reported going over a hard bump during the rollout.

Are these impacts enough to cause cell damage that can lead to a thermal runaway?  Klaus thinks both incidents had nothing to do with the FES systems involved, but rather came from the batteries alone.  Responding to European Aviation Safety Agency’s emergency airworthiness directive and its own investigation, FES has made changes to the battery packs and containers.

Klaus explains that the American FAA recorded eight battery fire incidents in 2013, nine in 2014, 16 in 2015, and 31 in 2016.  “Thus, the number of incidents has more than quadrupled within five years.”  (Klaus’s emphasis)  Battery fires are rare enough, but consequential when they happen.

Not Wonderful Choices

Klaus explains that for ultralight sailplanes powered by any electric power system, a battery fire in the air is a major problem.  One can’t jettison the batteries and popping the ballistic recovery parachute might cause it to ignite.  The pilot’s only hope, in that case, would be to leave the airplane and parachute to safety.

Damage to frong battery box on British sailplane. Both incidents were”lucky” in occurring after a safe landing

Of course, alternative chemistries for batteries (such as LiFePo4 – lithium iron phosphate batteries), or batteries with solid-state electrolytes might provide a safer level of operation.  Better monitoring of battery charge and internal temperatures at the cell level might give an early warning of trouble.

In the meantime, adherence to the airplane’s operations manual, care in handling the batteries, and diligent monitoring of motor and battery instruments could alert the pilot to points of concern.

Klaus Burkhard has a long and helpful list of links to publications which go into great depth on the subject, and provide worthwhile rules and suggestions from regulatory agencies.  LZ Design, Luka’s firm, released a helpful analysis of and response to the situation. Batteries overall seem to have better safety records than gasoline or Jet-A, but all must be handled with care and reason.

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Mike Friend Talks Hybrids in Beijing

Mike Friend spent 36 years with Boeing, rising to positions as Chief Engineer and Technology Director.  His technical and linguistics abilities helped make him a world traveler, creating the first fuel-cell powered airplane in Spain, for instance, in 2002 through 2008, when the demonstrator craft first flew.  That was the first of many hybrid designs Mike would work on, with samples of his work on display this month in Beijing.  At the E-Flight Forum, sponsored by Siemens, he held forth on single-, two-, and five-seat configurations that could benefit from hybrid power.

His talk, “Hybrid electric aircraft concepts, and a rational approach to success,” explained his reasoning for being enthusiastic about hybrids and showed different ways hybrid technology could be applied to different missions.  He points out that even though batteries have gone past the “tipping point” for practicality, they are heavy.  What is not of concern on a bus is a major problem in a light airplane.  (The talk can be found in Session 6 of the link above.)

He explains, “For a production aircraft, you need to think about more than just the bare battery cells.  You need to consider the weight of the BMS, cell cooling/heating, charging/swapping provisions, and a containment system acceptable to the FAA.”  To match performance of a gasoline-powered airplane,  He’s not waiting for the 350 Watt-hours per kilogram in complete battery packs for that to happen, instead turning to several hybrid designs he hopes to produce.  At a six-percent per year projected improvement in batteries, Mike sees a window between now and 2032 in which hybrids will be prime movers in the sky.

The MF6 single-seat hybrid combines power sources in a compact arrangement

Mike defines a Series Hybrid as a power system in which mechanical power comes only from the electric motor.  A Parallel Hybrid system derives mechanical power from the internal combustion engine and the electric motor simultaneously.  A Series/Parallel Hybrid can pull mechanical power “from the electric motor and internal combustion engine independently, or in conjunction with each other.”

Each type has possible uses in small airplanes.  His single-seat design, the MF6, uses a series/parallel hybrid configuration with a minimum part count and no duplication.  A Moto-Guzzi motorcycle engine coupled to a Siemens electric motor can use both power sources simultaneously for rapid takeoff and climb, or use only one unit for economical cruising.

Moto-Guzzi V9 and Siemens motor drive a common propeller, provide “twin-engine” safety

The Siemens drive motor acts as the starter for the Moto-Guzzi, and allows the use of a single motor/generator controller.  The 50-horsepower engine can run alone, or with the motor.  The gas engine can shut down and the airplane can fly on electric power alone.  This “twin-engine” safety with a single propeller allows the use of an off-the-shelf engine.

Mike’s sketch of two-seater, showing engine behind and motor in front of occupants

Mike’s two-seater is a three-lifting surface machine with a midship-mounted UL260 80-horsepower engine driving the nose-mounted propeller through a long drive shaft that passes between the two occupants – ala Molt Taylor’s later designs.  Power can be augmented by the nose-mounted Siemens motor.

His five-seat touring aircraft, looking a great deal like the RFB Fan Trainer of the 1970’s, would couple a Wankel rotary engine with a Siemens motor to drive a common fan in a ducted housing.

Five seats is halfway to the 10-seat Zunum, a hybrid airliner for which Mike is on the technical advisory board.  These craft all require careful design and assessment of what their performance potential might be.  Mike thinks designs are often predicated on optimistic assumptions regarding battery performance, systems weight, and aero performance.  Wrong estimated based on wrong assumptions lead to designing the wrong airplane.  To overcome this, he advises using a “tornado diagram” which incorporates realistic looks at how bad things can be at the worst end of a design as well as the rosiest of estimates.  As often happens, the truth lies in the middle (at least of the diagram).

Editors approximation of Mike’s original tornado diagram. Not to scale, by any means

While Mike feels an affordable all-electric airplane is not a near-term possibility for most of us, hybrids can be offered with current technology, with all electric flight possible for short hops.  He concluded his Beijing talk with the prediction that, “In the near future, an airplane configuration built specifically around hybrid electric propulsion will be measurably better than today’s internal combustion based configurations.”  May it be so.

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Solar Impulse Foundation Seeks 1,000 Solutions

Andre’ Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, founders and pilots of Solar Impulse, have founded an important outgrowth of their globe-spanning mission – The World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.  With almost 500 members and seeking 1,000 with responsible and profitable solutions the two are working to gain investors in literally saving the world.

Bertrand Piccard sees a current vision of a world that’s out of phase with technological reality.  In an editorial, he mused:

“When I was flying with my solar plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I remember looking at the sun that was giving energy to my four electric motors and their huge propellers. There was no noise, no pollution, no fuel… and I could fly forever. At one moment I thought, “This is science fiction, I’m in the future.” And then I realized, “No, it’s completely wrong, I’m in the present. This is what the technologies of today already allow me to do. It’s the rest of the world that is in the past, with old and inefficient devices.”

At one moment I thought, “This is science fiction, I’m in the future.” And then I realized, “No, it’s completely wrong, I’m in the present. This is what the technologies of today already allow me to do. It’s the rest of the world that is in the past, with old and inefficient devices.” Bertrand Piccard

The answer to this may rankle some, because it relies on investment money, along with altruism, to bring about the changes necessary to fix climate problems, slow the inexorable rise of the oceans, and give us a more hopeful future.  Worldwide solutions, though, require enormous sums of money, and therefore, investors capable of making large commitments.

Piccard, a psychiatrist, may realize that calling upon self-interest can make things happen.  “I have always said that protection of the environment would become a reality only if it requires no financial or behavioral sacrifices. Who would renounce driving their car or heating their house because of sea levels rising in 20 years’ time? The truth is that today, even if climate change didn’t exist, building clean and efficient infrastructures would make sense.”

Downtown New Delhi, India in pollution caused by automobiles, industry. Converting to clean energy would reduce the health hazards and improve human longevity – regardless of one’s belief in climate change

The green bond market doubled to almost $83 billion USD after the signature of the 2015 Climate Agreement.  That market will grow despite changing political climates, simply because industries and individuals are investing in environmentally sound solutions that make them profitable or save them money.  Certainly, recent trends such as a growing disparity between costs of generating electricity with coal or solar and wind are driving the coal industry back into the ground and rapidly increasing the deployment of clean alternatives.

Trends, as shown from a clean energy promoter, could be enticing for Investors, those the World Alliance is hoping will jump in to fund the solutions providers.  The Foundation describes these people as those who will have, “Access to a diverse portfolio of cutting-edge Efficient Solutions.”

Note that converting to clean fuels reduces overall energy requirements, partly from not having to transport fuels to remote sites and partly from greater efficiency of on-site power generation.  Source: Investmentwatchblog.com

At the least, the World Alliance hopes to provide opportunities that will appeal to Seekers, who will, ”Gain access to a network of solutions in different sectors and scales to help you reach your environmental objectives in a profitable way.’

This three-fold approach to uniting innovators with investors is a great deal like that of the recent 2017 Hello Tomorrow Global Summit Deep Tech Challenge, which awarded 15,000 euros to an American startup, Ampaire.  Many more green aviation startups exist, and if the Alliance can unite visionaries with venture capitalists, the future will be bright, indeed.

Two innovators with the courage to fly day and night and across seemingly boundless oceans at 40 mph also have the courage to overcome skeptics and critics in their new and grand goals.  We wish them well in their wonderful endeavor.

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Ampaire and its Zero Emission Airplane

Ampaire, a California-based startup, has a simple, two-fold set of goals.  Its TailWind™ aircraft will solve the problems of high operating costs for short-haul airlines and reduce emissions by 99 percent.  They must make a compelling argument since they won one of ten awards at the recent the 2017 Hello Tomorrow Global Summit Deep Tech Challenge in Paris.

 

Kevin Noertker, CEO of Amapire, left, and Matt Petersen, President & CEO of LACI with model TailWind. (Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Kevin Noertke, CEO of the firm, presented a brief but energetic rundown on the company’s goals and the elegant aeronautical offering he and co-founders Cory Combs (CTO) and Ryan Bilton (CFO) envision.  Note the crowd, the band, and the high production values of the Summit.

Your editor wondered about the “Powered By” reference to Airbus.  Kevin cleared that up in an email.

The ‘Powered by’ statement is a phrasing Hello Tomorrow uses to describe where their sponsorship funding came from.

“For example:

“ONE €100K GRAND PRIZE: For the best early-stage startup – Equity-free, no strings attached – Powered by BNP Paribas

“TEN €15K TRACK PRIZES: For the best early-stage startup in each track – Equity free, no strings attached – Powered by our track partners

“Ampaire won the Aerospace Track. That track was sponsored (“Powered”) by Airbus.”

The leaders at Hello Tomorrow were obviously impressed by the direct approach to reducing operating costs by 25 percent and almost entirely eliminating fossil-fuel pollution.  That the airplane looks swift and efficient probably helped garner the approval of the judges and the audience as well.  Even more impressive, Ampaire was chosen from 3,000 initial entries and 75 picked for final judging.

Ampaire’s TailWind in a rendering that emphasizes its sleek design

In a November 7 interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, Kevin explained how his firm will install electric motors on an existing airplane as a test bed for some of their concepts.  ““We’ve developed the system and now we’re doing bench testing on the retrofit,” Noertker said. “We’re moving toward ground testing. That will begin here in downtown L.A.”

Based in the non-profit Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) on the La Kretz Innovation Campus, Ampaire has access to office space and 800 square feet in an adjacent warehouse where bench testing takes place.

Dual Emrax motors to be used in Ampaire’s initial test bed.  Units will be “upgraded” for actual TailWind prototypes.  (Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

The limited space will enable integrating elements of the aircraft and low-power testing, but the project will move to a local airport for taxi and flight tests.  Kevin explains, ““That’s a relatively lengthy process that we’re beginning now.  We look to be certified by the end of 2020.” Others might be impressed by a “lengthy” certification process that takes a mere three years from concept to reality.

Flight test of a retrofitted six-passenger airplane next year will be followed by production engineering design and certification and of the 100-mile-range craft, according to the Daily News.

Kevin explains the high level of “unwanted emissions,” 800 million tons of CO2 from the commercial airline industry each year.  In California alone, small aircraft emit 70,000 pounds of lead, 1,700 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 90,000 pounds of particulate matter annually.

The interview explains Ampaire’s market targets.  “’Seven airlines have already given us letters of interest,’ Noertker said. ‘We’ll be targeting their shortest flights. Those are the ones that have the highest kinds of maintenance drivers. Every time you take off you’re heating up your engine and that drives the least efficient fuel burn. Those short flights really struggle to be profitable.’”

Ampaire’s airplanes could save 75-to-95-percent on fuel costs and result in overall operating cost savings of about 25 percent.  The all-electric TailWind-E and TailWind-H hybrid electic (for longer flights) have a high-aspect-ratio wing and ducted propeller fan.  Retractable gear and extremely clean design will ensure swift passage to a destination.

Asked to comment on the relative similarities to Faradair’s BEHA, Kevin responded, “The TailWind’s biggest distinction from FaradAir is the lower drag high AR wing relative to the high drag triwing. We’re optimized for longer routes, in addition to high takeoff lift.”

Cory explained to your editor that the Emrax motors to be used on the testbed will be upgraded in the TailWind craft.  Thrust will be directed through a ducted fan arrangement as on the Fairadair, but details are withheld at this time.

Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, sees expanded opportunities for using Ampaire’s technologies in a wide range of projects.  Cross-pollination in such enterprises is a constant source of new possibilities.

Ampaire’s eight-members come from previous experience with SpaceX, Caltech and Northrop Grumman.

We hope that their ambitious schedule and innovative ideas bring about an exciting reality as promising as the images we see today.

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Is there a Fisker battery in the future of electric vehicles?  The latest proclamations from Henrik Fisker indicate he is ready to launch a lovely four-seat car for CES 2018, and that it will have LG Chem batteries capable of powering the vehicle for 400 miles.  Charging the batteries for nine minutes will add 125 miles range.  That’s definitely competitive, but Fisker promises more for a future EMotion supercar.

Fisker claims that machine will have newly-patented solid-state batteries that charge in a minute, have 2.5 times the energy density of currently available lithium batteries, and will be far cheaper to manufacture than today’s cells.  That’s in 2023, five years out.

Five Years Out

“Five years out” has been the refrain for hydrogen-powered cars for perhaps five decades, and is a useful predictive metric for innovators seeking investors, who will wait patiently (theoretically) for a return on investment.  Your editor rushed to see a prototype Fisker on display about a decade ago.  The car sat in lone splendor at a local dealer’s showroom, and Fisker reps opened the car’s doors to show the splendid interior, but not the hood or trunk to dazzle us with the motor or batteries.  One left the display with the suspicion that what we saw was a “glider,” an unpowered, incomplete body shell on wheels.  Five years out, the company was in bankruptcy, much to the chagrin of investors.

Fisker raised enormous amounts of money to develop and build the showroom display pieces – “almost $1.4 billion… from investors as diverse as Leonardo di Caprio and Kleiner Perkins, [would] obtain a $528 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, balloon to 600+ employees, default on loans or investment conditions at least four separate times, spend $535,000 on a website, get sued by its own employees, get evicted from its primary business location, and be investigated by the government — apparently for its incredible ability to burn a billion dollars while delivering only a few thousand actual completed cars,” according to Venturebeat.com.

EMotion’s butterfly doors will doubtless wow visitors at CES 2018

Fisker made fewer than 2.200 cars finally, each costing about $900,000 and being sold to dealers for $70,000 each.  To paraphrase the old business maxim, “You can’t make that up on volume.”  Fisker left an enormous amount unpaid to creditors, including the U. S. government.  Yet even after that venture capital defeat, Fisker is poised to release an updated car, the EMotion, and announce a solid-state battery breakthrough.

EMotion and Suspicion

The car, already shown to the world on social media, will be on display at CES 2018, according to Fisker.  Electrek.com, though, voices suspicions about the “unbelievable claims” announced by Fisker.

These begin with the announced $129,000 price, not for a base model, but for the car with batteries enough for 400 miles range and that will enable nine-minute charging to add 127 miles when the car is partially discharged.  Fisker claims, “Fisker EMotion will come with state of the art NMC (Li-ion) chemistry produced by one of the world’s leading battery companies, & Fisker proprietary battery pack, giving the vehicle over 400 mile range. We still continue our efforts in advancing battery research in Graphene & Solid State chemistry!”

The future is electric, autonomous & connected. An exciting time for automotive disruption! See us on History Channel:

Posted by Fisker on Saturday, August 19, 2017

 

Given similar weights and volumes, Fisker would need a battery pack about 30-percent bigger than that in a Tesla S 100 using the best of current technology.  Electrek does give a nod to improved battery technology that will be available by 2019, when the initial car is ready for sale.  Other manufacturers, “like Lucid Motors, are planning similar energy capacities in their cars on a similar timeline.”

Electrek’s misgiving about the nine-minute claim comes from the fact that few, if any, chargers are capable of that performance at this time.  We can assume this will improve as larger vehicles such as buses and Tesla’s Semi come on line and will require ever-larger chargers.

The Future Solid-State Batteries?

If Fisker can pull off the introduction and timely production of its four-door speedster, its 2023 goal of having a solid-state battery technology is still in question.  The company has released an image, ostensibly of the battery contained in their patent filing, which shows a lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) layer, with a conductive polymer layer as the top layer, a current collector immediately above the NMC layer, and a “proprietary electrolyte” as the bottom layer.

Fisker solid-state technology is capable of constructing bulk three-dimensional solid-state electrodes with 25 times more surface area than flat thin-film solid-state electrodes and extremely high electronic and ionic conductivities, thereby enabling fast charging and cold temperature operation.  Illustration: GreenCarCongress.com

Doctor Fabio Albano, Vice President of battery systems at Fisker Inc., claims that the firm is overcoming several obstacles in solid-state battery development, including making scalable, low-cost materials and systems work toward the goal of a battery with 2.5 times more energy per kilogram than conventional lithium cells today.  The battery’s “bulk three-dimensional solid-state electrodes with 25 times more surface area than flat thin-film solid-state electrodes,” will enable faster charging and greater energy density.  That is as reported in GreenCarCongress.com on November 13.

But an August report from Green Car Reports tosses some cold water on this heated speculation.

“Interestingly, the EMotion electric car’s specifications haven’t changed despite Fisker’s earlier statement that the car would not feature the solid-state graphene battery technology he had once promised.

“Fisker and UCLA’s Nanotech dissolved their joint venture to create and engineer the graphene batteries earlier this year.

“It would have been one of the earliest automotive applications of the technology.”

Fisker’s success, then, would seem to hinge on battery development within the company, headed by “A co-founder of solid-state battery start-up Sakti3.”  Others, including Toyota, are pressing forward on solid-state battery development.  In the meantime, the regular eight-percent-per-year increase in battery energy density should progress, with longer-term, but less immediately exciting results.

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e-Genius Gets Around Quickly, Inspires Others

Birds of the Same Tail Feather Configuration

Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Rudolf Voit-Nitschmann (emeritus) had a lot to do with designing the 1996 Icare II solar-powered sailplane and the 2011 e-Genius.  Icare II set several world records in its 20 years, most under the guidance of pilot Klaus Ohlmann.  e-Genius won the award for being the quietest airplane at the Green Flight Challenge held in Santa Rosa, California, and was a close second to Pipistrel’s G4 in passenger miles per gallon (equivalent) energy use.

Icare II (foreground) with e-Genius in 2013 drag tests

Dipl.-Ing. Voit-Nitschmann was kind enough to explain to your editor how the propeller center came to be at the top of the tail on e-Genius.  It’s a similar configuration to that on the Icare II*, and one he had found to provide the greatest undisturbed air to the propeller and the least added friction drag, since only the lower part of the blade crossed in front of the upper part of the vertical fin and rudder.  This configuration was on display in abundance when both Icare II and e-Genius showed up at this year’s SmartFlyer Challenge in Grenchen, Switzerland.

SmartFlyer Cruiser three-view highlights tail-mounted propeller

The SmartFlyer Cruiser’s development is based at Grenchen, and its four-seat design draws on Voit-Nitschmann’s basic approach to drag reduction.  Another craft, Urs Villiger’s Traveler, a hybrid similar to the SmartFlyer, is still under development, but shows the same tail-propeller setup in a video from its Facebook page.

Posted by VOTEC EVOLARIS on Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Icare II and e-Genius had a central role in displays at the SmartFlyer Challenge and highlighted how at least the basic configuration could be adapted to different missions.  Spectators had to be impressed that a 20-year-old, solar-powered craft could charge its batteries on a cloudy day, and still demonstrate impressive performance. 

Challenging Further Records with e-Genius

Since the Challenge, e-Genius set two new speed records over different flight distances, making. an average speed of 235 kilometers-per-hour (145.7 mph) over 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and 222 km/h (137.6 mph) in a flight over 100 km (62 miles).  This broke the previous records by nine km/h (5.58 mph) and 44 km/h (27.3 mph) respectively.

The aircraft was flown by record flyers Klaus Ohlmann and Ingmar Geiss from the Institute of Aircraft Design. The two new world records were set according to the regulations of the international air sports federation FAI. Photo: ifb University Stuttgart

Stuttgart University reports, “The aircraft was flown by record pilot Klaus Ohlmann and Ingmar Geiß of the Institute of Aircraft Design. Both of the new world records were set in accordance with the regulations of the World Air Sports Federation FAI. In the category „electric aircraft“ the e-Genius already holds five other FAI world records over different distances and reached altitudes.

Yet Another Four-Seater Inspired by e-Genius

“The „e-Genius project is part of several research projects at the Institute of Aircraft Design with the aim of investigating how to reduce CO2 and noise emissions with battery-powered and hybrid-electric aircraft, in order to contribute to the reduction of aviation’s environmental impact and thus improving its social acceptance.”

Ingmar leads the team working on the realization of a four-seater derivation of e-Genius, Eco4.  Winner of last year’s Berblinger Prize, the airplane will travel on 40 percent less energy than a comparable conventional aircraft because of the cleanness of its design.  As Stuttgart University’s description explains, “This is achieved by combining an optimized fuselage with an efficient hybrid-electric propulsion chain. A small but powerful battery system enables a silent take-off without the combustion engine running and resulting in less noise emissions. With four persons on-board the airplane has a range of 1200 nautical miles (1,380 statute miles). A special focus was put on the practicability of the ECO4 by meeting common requirements regarding take-off distance, climb rate and approach speed. The described principle could also be applied to commuter airplanes making them more efficient and less noisy.”

Eco-4, a derivation of e-Genius’ configuration

e-Genius and Icare II are by highly socially acceptable as they pass quietly, and in e-Genius’ case, quickly overhead.  They have also led the way into making future craft, cleaner, quieter, and more efficient.

*Icare II had its propeller behind the T-tail to allow folding for gliding flight.

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