Ascendance Flight Technologies, a French firm developing an electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, has doubled down on its original, smaller airplane. Originally a four-seat, hybrid-powered machine with three lift fans, Atea has retained the name, but grown considerably.
Atea now has eight lift fans and two horizontal propellers pulling things forward. It can carry its five passenger in a “Skyview cabin” for 400 kilometers (248 miles) Powered by its modular “Sterna” hybrid-electric propulsion system, the craft will hit as yet unspecified speeds, but within a two-hour range, that will probably be about 124 mph.
Atea’s lift rotors and horizontal thrust propellers will provide swift regional transport for five
An expansion of their original design, Atea comes from a group of former Airbus E-Fan engineers and technicians. The web site explains, “Ascendance was cofounded in 2018 by Jean-Christophe Lambert, Benoit Ferran, Clément Dinel and Thibault Baldivia, who together have 26 years combined experience and expertise working on hybrid and electrical aircrafts: from Airbus on the E-Fan all-electric aircraft to Atea today. The four partners, all graduates of France’s top aerospace engineering and business schools, are driven by a common mission: to leverage the vast potential of electric technologies to develop sustainable flight solutions for today and tomorrow.” Even the advisory board comprises former Airbus, Renault, and Safran Group leaders.
Tandem wing arrangement echoes that of a low-tech French predecessor – Mignet’s Flying Flea
Besides providing medium-range regional transportation, Atea will be available for missions such as sightseeing or surveillance and patrol, according to Ascendance. Designed “in compliance with the requirements of EASA (European Aviation Safety Administration) SC-VTOL regulations… the aircraft also meets current operational requirements under Air Ops Regulation on flight routes and flight reserves.”
If all goes well on a doubtless accelerated schedule, Atea will be ready for display at the Paris Olympics in 2024, although it’s not clear whether it will fly during the event. Ascendance has been named as one of the airframe developers for Urban Air Mobility in the Paris Region. They join an international assemblage:
Airbus (France): aircraft manufacturer
Ehang (China): passenger electric VTOL manufacturer
H3 Dynamics (Singapore): manufacturer and ultralight hydrogen electric systems developer
Pipistrel (Slovenia): electric aircraft and logistics VTOL manufacturer
Safran Electronics & Defense (France): manufacturer of the Patroller VTOL and optronics, avionics, electronics systems and critical software provider for civil and military applications
Volocopter (Germany): manufacturer of the VoloCity electric VTOL
Vertical Aerospace (United Kingdom): manufacturer of the VA-1X eVTOL
Zipline (USA): logistics drone operator and manufacturer.
Related groups will work on operations, infrastructure, airspace integration, and public acceptance. Some have plans for transporting Olympics attendees to the events in sky taxis, although one can only speculate on total numbers.
Aside from renderings of what Atea may look like, details on performance and the modular power system are limited. Ascendance looks forward to better batteries, and transitioning from currently available fossil fuels to SAF – Sustainable Aviation Fuel – and even hydrogen fuel cells for extending the range of the craft.
Paris’ Urban Air Mobility plans will drive UAM partners to meet 2024 Olympics deadlines
How the team is able to integrate its machine with the plans for Paris airspace and a more regional future expansion will form an exciting chapter in this start-up’s development. We wish them well.
Scientists working in England and Belgium have come up with low-cost ways to harvest hydrogen from either very dirty water or from the air around us. If these breakthrough technologies pan out, they could set us on a different path to energy independence – and even clean water for everyone.
Hydrogen is the futurist’s dream fuel, non-polluting and emitting only water vapor. But it’s been hampered by its high cost of production and sourcing from natural gas.
Dr. Stuart Coles with carbon fiber mat that squeezes clean water and hydrogen from the air. Credit: WMG, University of Warwick
A “Two-fer” for the Future
Researchers at the University of Warwick have found a “two-fer” that cleans waste water and produces a clean fuel. They note the following caveat and a promising development from their research: “Wastewater treatment is vital to remove pathogens, but is incredibly energy intensive. The ability to treat it more sustainably is a challenge researchers from WMG, University of Warwick have been able to achieve, using recycled carbon fiber mats to produce hydrogen from waste water.”
The new method would reduce energy use since treating wastewater in the United Kingdom accounts for three percent of the energy used there – equivalent to 13 billion kilowatt hours. This causes one to contemplate the enormous amount of energy required to run the world, estimated to total 160,000 terawatt hours (A terawatt equals a kilowatt with nine zeros.)
Water and waste company Severn Trent asked researchers from WMG at the University to come up with a way to treat wastewater in more energy efficient ways. The school had apparently been researching, “Microbial Electrolysis Cells (MEC), [which involve] using electromagnetic microorganisms to break down organic pollutants in waste water, producing clean water and hydrogen gas.” Normally, anodes used in the reaction cost hundreds of pounds per square meter and are not highly productive of H2, preventing large scale use.
Recycled carbon fiber mats, however, cost only two pounds ($2.65) per square meter (10.76 square feet), cheap enough for industrial-scale use.
The ability to return clean water to the Severn River and produce an energy storage material such as hydrogen helps the environment in a symbiotic way. Green hydrogen doesn’t have the “dirty” parentage of natural gas and its attendant “fracking,” and acts as a clean fuel source in fuel cells, which emit only water vapor and warm air.
WMG piloted their techniques at Severn Trent’s Minworth waste treatment site, successfully processing up to 100 liters of wastewater per day and removing 51 percent of organic pollutants and up to 100 percent of suspended solids from the water while producing 18 times more hydrogen (at 100-percent purity) than the graphite material previously used.
Severn Trent sewage treatment plant at Minworth uses methane from sewage to power the plant itself. Other processes in plant could produce not only clean water but hydrogen as a fuel for internal and external use
Dr Stuart Coles, from WMG, University of Warwick explained, “We are really excited about this technology. By taking waste from the automotive and aerospace sectors, we have developed a circular solution to a longstanding problem. Instead of just treating the wastewater, we are now able to extract value from it in the form of hydrogen at a lower cost than ever before.
“The next phase of this work is look at optimizing the design of the microbial electrolysis cells and further reduce the level of pollutants in the water. This in turn should help produce even more hydrogen!”
Bob Stear, Chief Engineer at Severn Trent added, “The performance boost and cost savings demonstrated from this research mean that MEC technology is one step closer to being cost competitive with existing wastewater treatment assets. WMG have also demonstrated that this technology has the potential to create a more circular wastewater treatment process which will be essential to delivering on our long term sustainability goals and Net Zero plans. We’re currently scoping scaling up the technology at our test-bed plant in Redditch.”
Again, think of scale here. Severn Trent supplies water to 7.4 million people, and sewerage services to 8.5 million people over an area of 21,000 square kilometers in central England and mid-Wales.” Add three zeros after that 7.4 million and you are close to the total world population. It would take 1,000 processing plants the size of Severn Trent’s combined resources to clean the water and eliminate the waste for the world. Think, too, about the benefits from providing clean water for everyone and a clean energy source as an alternative to fossil fuels.
The French, attempting similar efforts, even produce algae for animal feed in the process.
A Cleaner Source
Meanwhile, Belgian researchers have developed a solar panel that produces hydrogen. A team working with Johan Martens, Professor of Chemistry at the Faculty of Bioengineering at KUL, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven has produced a system that transforms the water vapor in the air into hydrogen.
Martens explains, “You only need sunlight and water vapor. And all over the world you have water vapor in the air, even in the driest places in the world.” Even in Belgium, with 200 rainy days a year and an average of less than five hours or sunlight per day, the panel produces an average of 250 liters of hydrogen per day. Martens adds, “Then you have to store that hydrogen in a pressurized container, just like you would with natural gas.” This kind of hydrogen harvest could take place at individual to municipal levels or beyond.
According to the researchers, 20 of these panels would provide a “well-insulated house” with electricity and heat all winter long. Reluctant to reveal details of the panels, Martens and his team hope to commercialize their invention within the next three years.
Water Vapor in Arid Regions
University of California at Berkeley students have developed a self-contained unit that pulls water from the air, even in the Mojave Desert. Under refinement for at least three years, this system shows that water vapor does indeed exist in the most inhospitable places – it merely needs to be pulled from the air.
These findings show that we could harvest water and energy in abundance. We look forward to further research and hope for commercial-level products.
Dreams of flight often include the dreamer wearing a silk scarf, if not a cape. We would love to emulate our super heroes with all their startling dexterity. A group in the Puget Sound area is making part of that dream come true. Starting with radio-controlled models a few years ago Zeva Aero has progressed to a full-scale unit that will carry an individual Superman style, with the pilot/passenger peering through a transparent shield.
Needing only a 30-foot by 30-foot landing area, Zeva’s Zero boasts the ability to hoist a 220-pound person vertically, tilt over and take them 50 miles at up to 150 miles per hour. Zero’s eight electric motors provide a degree of redundancy and safety, enabling flight with a few motors not at their full potential (an electrical pun there). The firm says, “ZERO is a new class of aircraft that blends the best features of multi-copter with streamlined wing-body for improved range and efficiency.” The aerodynamic shape is offset visually by the eight spinning propellers, which might present a hazard even for an enclosed pilot/passenger.
Prone, the pilot/passenger gets a Superman view of the world below. Propellers twirling close to important body parts may be of concern
SkyDock™ – The First Step’s a Doozy!
Zeva Zero eliminates elevator rides and even waiting on the corner for a cab or Uber to show up. Instead, their convenient Lyft substitute enables those who can afford a high-rise life style to step from their apartment directly into their Zero. The SkyDock features “computer-controlled alignment and capture,” sure to ingratiate it to its owner when he or she latches on to a firm landing spot many stories above ground.
35th-floor residents will doubtless welcome the jetway-like enclosure as they “walk the plank” to get to their Zeva Zero
Its integrated system eliminates the need to manually plug in the Zero for between-flight charging. SkyDock can even act as an emergency exit that might enable emergency crews access to the high rise.
Links to the Puffin
NASA’s Mark Moore, who went on to guide Uber’s urban air mobility program, designed the Puffin as a personal people lifter with the idea of speedily moving individuals. Aside from the obvious differences (two large rotors vs. eight small propellers), Puffin and Zero share similar upright to prone pilot/passenger accommodation and a planned 150 mph cruise. Ten years ago, Moore had dreams of longer than 50-mile trips, assuming better batteries were on the way. Alas, energy storage isn’t that much better, but still sufficient for traversing ground traffic and squeezing an hour’s car trip into an exciting 20-minute excursion.
The overall configuration and performance measures are similar, though, and for the adventurous soul willing to accept the limitations of solo flight, a possible convenience in an ever more inconvenient world.
Batteries are Getting Cheaper – but How Much Better?
Inside EVs.com reports, “According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance‘s annual battery survey, annual battery pack prices dropped some 6 percent from 2020 to 2021. Back in 2010, lithium-ion battery pack prices averaged $1,200 per kWh. Today, they’re down 89 percent, to an average of just $132 per kWh. Just a year ago, pack prices were at $140 per kWh.”
Although not quite at the $100 per kilowatt-hour point promised for years, batteries a becoming affordable enough to make projects such as Zeva’s possible.
Like Mark Moore’s Puffin, Zeva relies on quick transition from hover to horizontal flight to conserve batteries
If the energy density were commensurate with pricing, we would see the long-promised 10X battery, and airplane performance would be on a level competitive with fossil-fuel powered vehicles.
In the meantime, our intrepid designers and builders are forging ahead with what’s available.
Zeva at GoFly
Zeva participated in the Boeing sponsored GoFly competition and has received support from the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.
Zeva’s timeline shows they think air taxi service will begin by 2025, urban air mobility (UAM) will “be ubiquitous” by 2030, and personal eVTOL ownership will be a thing by 2035. Zeva projects consumer-owned personal flight vehicles becoming the norm by 2040. That’s 90 years past the era of Aerocars and personal helicopters we hoped for in post-war America. We look forward to where the Zeva Zero goes next.
Electric Ducted Fans (EDF) may soon show some promise in full-size flight. Several projects are under way, including EleFanT, an interesting development in Germany by GKN and KTH (the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology). First, though, we’ll look at two stateside projects.
David Ullman’s IDEAL
EDFs fans are nothing new in the model aviation world, often powering large-scale models of actual jet fighters or trainers. Such model motors, combining their thrust, can augment lift and propulsion on light aircraft, and a few larger projects are attempting to utilize that promise.
David Ullman, in Independence, Oregon has flown a Jabiru he rebuilt from a wreck with its Jabiru engine providing the main power, but augmented in thrust and lift by four small electric ducted fans (EDFs). The arrangement is a partial demonstration of IDEAL, which stands for “Integrated Distributed Electric – Augmented Lift” flight, using “thrust from distributed electric propulsion to improve the lift and drag performance of the aircraft during takeoff, cruise and landing.”
120 mm electric ducted fans on David Ullman’s JabirWatt gave sufficient proof of David’s concepts
The small motors are 120 millimeters (4.72 inches) in diameter, off-the-shelf units. Arrayed across the inner leading edge of the JabirWatt’s wing, they were “not enough to sustain flight, but sufficient to collect data to compare with wind-tunnel and theoretical results,” according to David. Results from actual flights have led to some exciting developments which must await the lifting of a moratorium for your editor to share. David assures us that, “Electric airplanes are coming; they just won’t look like what people expect.”
Jetoptera’s Bladeless Fan
Jetoptera, in Edmonds, Washington, has been test flying scaled-down versions of what they plan for full-size demonstrations soon. Their Fluidic Propulsion™ may remind many of the Dyson bladeless fans one sees in appliance stores. Nilesh Gandhi of Mumbai, India has demonstrated a small drone using Dyson-type technology.
But who better to explain the virtues of fluidic propulsion than the head of Jetoptera, Andrei T. Evulet in a TED Talk at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland?
The demonstrations are impressive and show a clear advancement toward the desired technology. A few quibbles remain. He explains the quarter-scale demonstration model did not use the actual fluidic technology for fear of damaging components. Electric power is used on the small model, but batteries are not capable of demonstrating that same capability of larger craft. That seems a bit obtuse considering that Joby and other eVTOL makers are demonstrating electric vertical lift with ostensibly far less efficient propellers and rotors. Evulet does not mention fuel cells as a possible power source.
We look forward, though, to larger demonstrations and the development of batteries up to the challenge.
GKN and Swedish Technology
Electric-Flight.eu reports that, “In England, a sheath current blower driven by an electric motor is being developed for future electric aircraft.” GKN Aerospace, developing this system in collaboration with KTH (the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology) will derive thrust from a ducted fan instead of conventional propellers. According to GKN, this solution offers three main advantages: safety, noise level and [ease of] motor installation. This is somewhat clumsily called the EleFanT project.
GKN’s ducted fan system combines features of a conventional jet engine and the same Coanda effect used in Jetoptera’s design. As suggested here, hydrogen may play a role in powering this engine
The collaborators hope to accelerate the pace of development in electric aviation and “position participants for international engine and aircraft development projects. Kicked off this year, the 1.5-year project is supported by the Swedish Energy Agency. Participants will focus on aerodynamic design, performance, lowering noise and creating new manufacturing technologies for an electrically powered turbofan that will power smaller regional aircraft.
The sheathed fan can be “powered by electricity, either from batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or even more conventional hybrid propulsion solutions.” Part of GKN Aerospace’s sustainability goals, the project “will be delivered from its brand-new Global Technology Centre in Trollhättan, Sweden.
Henrik Runnemalm, Vice President GKN Aerospace Global Technology Center in Trollhättan, Sweden, explains, “We are very positive about this initiative, which helps us to become part of the solution to aviation’s climate challenge. We will benefit greatly from GKN Aerospace and KTH’s long experience in turbomachines, lightweight construction and advanced manufacturing technology. From an electrification and sustainability perspective the project is strongly aligned with our recently announced H2GEAR and H2JET programs.”
With inventive solutions to producing thrust, lowering noise and increasing aerodynamic efficiency, these very different projects may help us achieve greener aviation in personal, urban and regional flight.
Thomas Senkel was an early part of Volocopter, initially called e-Volo. His first efforts resulted in a spider-like creation perched on an exercise ball. It flew, seemed stable, and despite the placement of whirling propeller blades encircling Thomas during his test flights, proved not a hazardous as it looked.
Explanatory material accompanying the video declared, “The first manned flight with an electric vertical take-off and landing multicopter (eVTOL) was performed by Volocopter. The flight lasted 90 seconds, after which the pilot Thomas Senkel stated ‘The flight characteristics are good natured. Without any steering input it would just hover there on the spot.’ The flight, which is a Guinness World Record, was performed on October 21st in 2011.”
Although he helped develop the e-Volo which transfigured into Volocopter variants, Thomas apparently left the company to strike on his own patent-filled adventures.
A Bird in the Canaries
He worked on a variety of electric bikes and trikes, with the most aerial being his Skyrider, seen here electrically reaching a mountain slope and then powering itself in parachute mode. He worked with Mark Beierele to develop a 20 kW motor for the eGull
IN 2014 the blog reported, “[Mark] Beierle and Senkel first made an 18 kW motor that Mark flew successfully at the Arlington Fly in in 2010, and for several months thereafter. After 35 hours of testing, however, the motor showed signs of overheating at maximum power.” The design was upgraded and demonstrated on the eGull as Oshkosh’s AirVenture that year. That motor produced 30 kW (40.2 hp.)
eMagic One premiered at European Rotors, where Senkel and co-founder Michael Kügelgen displayed it for the first time. Moritz Pfletschinger, A third founding member, developed the software for the battery management system, pilot assistance system and flight controller optimization. eMagic has an empty weight of 250 kg (562 pounds) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420 kg (882 pounds). Thomas claims it will cruise for a full hour at 144 kilometers per hour (90 mph) on a charge of its dual battery packs. He adds that is five times the range a pure multicopter design can manage on the same energy.
Each of the eight lift motors spins at 1,800 rpm and produces 13 kW (15 in the company’s brochure) and 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of thrust. Each propulsion package weighs “just 5 kg (11 lb) including motor, controller and prop,” according to New Atlas. A 40 kW tractor motor and propeller pull eMagic One along at 144 kilometers per hour (90 mph) for an hour with two battery packs.
As we see in the second part of the video, Thomas created a skeletal rig that resembles the aluminum frame he made for the original VC-1 to test the vertical lift component of eMagic One. Already, he’s demonstrated the ability of the traction motor to nearly levitate the lightly loaded craft after a short takeoff run. With a wing loading of only 5.8 pounds per square foot (one pound per square foot lighter than a Piper J-3 Cub) eMagic One takes off in a short distance on its parallel wings – which are claimed to be highly stall resistant. That should aid in transitions from vertical flight to horizontal flight and back.
eMagic’s canopy seems familiar, possibly because it looks just like those on the Silence Twister, a neat single-seat craft powered by Rotax or electric power. Brothers Matthias and Thomas Strieker head Silence Aircraft GmbH and Leviora Leichtbaumanufaktur, collaborate on multiple aircraft projects, including the Silence Twister Elektro. The companies are also working on piloted aerobatic drones, which we will cover soon, and even composite guitars.
A plethora of projects will bear watching in the near future, including the eMagic One, which we hope to see in transition flight soon.
Coming up with a new airplane is a daunting task – but Embraer announced four new designs this week. Ranging from nine to fifty passengers, Embraer’s Energia family are all electric or clean fuel redefinitions of regional air travel. Luis Carlos Alfonso, Senior VP of Engineering, Technology Development and Corporate Strategy presented them in front of a socially-distanced crowd in Brazil.
The two nine-passenger airplanes vary considerably. One is high-wing, with a pair of vertical tail-mounted motors driving contra-rotating propellers in full-electric mode. The other is a low-wing type, with twin electric motors on the rear flanks of the fuselage and powered by a hybrid-electric system.
Energia electric’s high-aspect ratio wing and contra-rotating propellers exude swift, smooth transport for 200-mile hops
The high-wing follows a design trend seen in e-Genius and Sunseeker Duo, with a pair of motors in this case mounted high on the vertical fin. Dipl-Ing. Rudolf Voit-Nitschmann explained this at the 2011 Green Flight Challenge. He showed the airflow from a propeller in this position impinged only on the top part of the fin, leaving the rest of the airframe in an undisturbed stream.
Energia Hybrid extends range to 500 miles
The pure electric version emits no pollutants, and Embraer projects up to a 90-percent reduction in emissions for the hybrid version.
Sizes for Every Regional Need
The larger aircraft come in the popular 19-passenger version and a 30 to 50-seat longer-range SAF or hydrogen-powered model.
Details on motors, batteries, and systems are part of ongoing negotiations with possible airline customers. Embraer predicts technology readiness by 2030 for the smaller craft and 2040 for the larger airplanes.
All are part of a program to achieve carbon-free flight in the regional airline market. Luis Carlos Affonso says the E9-HE will have a range of up to 500 miles, with 90-percent lower carbon dioxide emissions than current aircraft when burning SAF. Even standard Jet-A fuel will yield 50-percent lower emissions. The all-electric FE will have a range of only 200 miles, but with zero emissions.
The 19-seat E19-H2FC model will use fuel cells to power a pair of rear-mounted electric motors. Ready to start commercial operations in 2035, the H2-powered airliner will compete with Airbus, which intends to introduce its larger hydrogen-powered narrowbodies.
Energia Hydrogen flies 19 passengers emission free
Affonso added that the rear fuselage mounting of the motors will deliver a 60 percent reduction in noise levels.
The largest Energia model, the E50-H2GT, would fly on hydrogen or SAF/jet-A directly powering a gas turbine powerplant. This would seat between 35 and 50 passengers, with a projected range of 350 to 500 nautical miles.
30- to 50-passenger Energia will use SAF or hydrogen to power motors
Embraer announced the Energia concepts during the United Nations COP26 climate change conference. Rodrigo Silva e Souza, VP of marketing for commercial aircraft, explained, “The [air transport] industry only has one road ahead and that’s towards sustainable aviation,”
Regionalization and Smaller Aircraft
The firm hopes to profit from a trend toward people moving away from major cities to smaller, regional centers. That will require aircraft that can haul passengers for trips of 500 miles or less, and that opens a door for smaller, more efficient craft.
Embraer believes its new family of aircraft can capitalize on a “regionalization” trend that it says is seeing people and organization relocate from major cities, necessitating improved, short-haul transportation links. It says that new propulsion and digital technology means that smaller aircraft, like Embraer’s Energia family, can be more economically viable.
Arjan Meijer, President and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation, thinks that Regional Air Mobility (RAM) coupled withUrban Air Mobility (UAM) markets, “Collectively could more than double Embraer’s current projections for the mainstream regional airline market from around 4,000 anticipated deliveries to as many as 9,000.”
Responding to questions as to why Embraer would be competitive in these markets, Maijer is confident of success. “There are lots of start-ups trying to get off the ground, but it takes a lot of experience to certify new aircraft,” he responded. “I’m not convinced by the performance goals [of eVTOL aircraft], and I’m not comfortable with their aggressive timelines. The bigger OEMs [Airbus and Boeing] don’t have the right cost structures, but Embraer has experience in the regional sector, plus lean manufacturing processes and a very competitive cost structure.”
Green Aeronautics are moving beyond small beginnings into grander realms through ZeroAvia, Mitsubishi, and Alaska Airlines.
Gabriel DeVault has flown two different electric airplanes of his own, a converted EarthStar Thundergull and a Sonex eXenos (which seems to be his daily commuter between Hollister, California and his home in Watsonville). Both have been featured prominently in his YouTube channel and your editor has written about them for Kitplanes magazine. Now, Gabriel is working on a different type of Kitplane at a much large scale.
ZeroAvia has bigger plans with much bigger powerplants and planes coming soon, though.
London to Rotterdam – and Back
According to Business Traveler, ZeroAvia, “is partnering with the [Rotterdam The Hague] airport, Royal Schiphol Group, and Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport Foundation on the initiative, which if successful will see a 19-seater aircraft operate between the two cities (London and Rotterdam).”19 seats are a nice point in commuter craft, which enables licensing under less stringent rules than large craft.
The hydrogen-powered, twin-motored craft is under construction, but the London airport and the airline to be involved are as yet un-named. ZeroAvia said that “The deal sets a solid timeline for the launch of the first zero emission commercial passenger flights between the UK and the Netherlands, and potentially the first international commercial operation in the world.”
These initial flights are a set of shakedown cruises to determine whether a hydrogen infrastructure can be put into place at the two airports while promoting carbon-free flight between the two countries. Sergey Kiselev, Head of Europe at Zeroavia, said: “This deal means that, in just three years’ time, you should be able to board a flight and make the hour journey between the UK and the Netherlands without worrying about the impact on the climate.
“Working with partners like Royal Schiphol Group, we are making true zero emission flights a reality for passengers in the first half of this decade.”
Bigger and Better
Alaska Airlines and ZeroAvia are working on a major step up – the conversion of a 76-passenger DeHavilland Q400 aircraft to be fitted with ZeroAvia ZA2000 motors, part of an engine family capable of producing 2,000 to 5,000 kilowatts (2,682 to 6,705 horsepower). The aircraft will have a 500-mile range, sufficient for many Alaska regional routes.
One of five steps Alaska pledges toward achieving “net zero” by 2040. As explained by Diana Birkett Rakow, Vice President of Public Affairs and Sustainability, all steps are aligned with the Airline’s The Climate Pledge:
1. Operational efficiency
2. Fleet evolution
3. Sustainable aviation fuels
4. Emerging technology for electrified propulsion, and
5. Credible carbon offsets.
ZeroAvia plans on selling up to 50 H2 conversion kits to Alaska Airlines for use on their DeHavilland Q-400s
Alaska will begin converting its regional aircraft to hydrogen-electric power with up to 50 kits from Zero Avia. A workshop facility in Seattle will probably be the center of such operations. As ZeroAvia reports, “This pioneering zero-emission aviation rollout will be supported by the ground fuel production and dispensing infrastructure from ZeroAvia and its infrastructure partners, such as Shell.”
Val Miftakhov, CEO and founder of ZeroAvia, explains, “The aviation industry is one of the hardest industries to decarbonize; however, with this collaboration, we are one step closer to achieving our goal of making our skies emission-free. We are thrilled to see Alaska taking the lead to implement clean technologies into their operations and look forward to putting boots on the ground with Alaska’s team.”
Further, Faster, and Higher with Mitsubishi
As explained on their web site, “MHIRJ is the merging of two important heritages: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the CRJ Series program from Bombardier.”
ZeroAvia and MHIRJ will collaborate to certificate electric powerplants and hydrogen fuel systems under Part 33 rules governing aircraft. This will expand to development and installation of ZeroAvia systems in other aircraft as part of, “A green retrofit program for regional aircraft.”
ZeroAvia and MHIRJ will team up to produce larger, H2-powered regional jets
ZeroAvia now works to convert a 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft for first test flights expected in the coming months. Certification and market entry for its 19-seat powertrain by could follow by 2024, “with an eye towards larger aircraft (50-80 seats) by 2026, and regional jets around 2028.”
This is all very exciting and shows that real-world products are being amalgamated into working, green aircraft that could show the way into a carbon-free aviation future.
Since we recently promoted a survey on interest in a kit-built Light Sport Aircraft that would be powered electrically, it’s interesting to see such a craft nearing first flight in Australia.
Electron E-75’s white shell shows precision of moldings
Electron looks a great deal like Zara Rutherford’s record attempt Shark, a Slovakian European ultralight. Even with fixed gear rather than the retractables on Zara’s Shark, the Electron still promises a cruise speed of 250 kilometers per hour (155 mph).
75 kilowatts (100.5 horsepower) can urge the plane to that speed, considerably faster than a Cessna 150 on the same power. Weighing less than 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds), Electron is 280 pounds lighter than a 150 at full gross weight. Its eight-meter (26.24 feet) wingspan and 9.29 square meters (99.99 square feet) of wing area gives a slightly higher span loading than a 150, and a significantly greater wing loading. Still, Electron promises much greater speed. We will await rate of climb figures.
Rudder pedal shows clever engineering, light weighting of components
Carbon fiber, “targeted use of aramid (Kevlar?), and CNC aluminum components contribute to a light, strong structure. Beautifully made molds produce sailplane-like, wave-free surfaces, which enhance the laminar flow design.
The 75-kilowatt motor is listed as an MGM-Compro REB-90 according to the Australian magazine, Sport Flying. Weighing 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds), the motor is a small part of the aircraft’s total weight. Of course, this is short of the added weight of an electronic speed controller (ESC) and the 46 kilowatt-hour battery. Based on a “guesstimate” of 200 Watt-hours per kilogram, such a pack would weigh about 230 kilos (506 pounds). The battery pack can provide a claimed range of 350 kilometers (217 statute miles).
On the MGM-Compro web site, the motor is priced at 7,875 euros (9,065 U. S. dollars). Operating costs, according to Electron Aero, would be around $16 to $18 per hour. These are Australian dollars, equivalent to $11.68 to $13.14 U. S. At current market prices, lithium-ion batteries cost about $137 U. S. per kilowatt-hour. The pack would cost $6,302 at those prices. Adding costs for a battery management system and associated cables could mean a total powerplant price under $20,000. This puts the package and operating costs at or below those for a conventional system. With battery prices trending lower, and aviation gasoline prices trending higher, we could see price parity soon.
Compro motor fits neatly behind propeller spinner
Developers, though, indicate pricing may be in the $150,000 to $200,000 (AUD) range ($110,205 to $147,000 USD). That’s in the upper end of LSA pricing, but with a performance bonus.
If Electron Aero can bring a kit to market at a reasonable price, with a well-integrated power system and modern, electric instrumentation, they will have a competitive, modern craft that would look good on any flight line.
We would all love less expensive batteries that are safe, reliable, and possibly even better performing than what we have now. What if recycling our throw-aways gave us “new” batteries with refined materials that improve their performance?
A current paper from the Royal Society for Chemistry may hold a key to producing such cheaper, better batteries. The complete entry expands on the idea of reclaiming materials in used batteries in an efficient, cost-effective way. The findings come to light with good timing, considering recent concerns over lithium mining and availability.
Conflicted over Conflicts
Battery materials are selected for factors such as their inherent ability to shuttle ions between a cathode and anode, the positive and negative poles of a battery. Electrodes may contain lithium, cobalt, and nickel, among other elements.
Cobalt, for instance, is a so-called “conflict mineral,” sourced from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo using child labor. Such minerals are often mined using “artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM),” often accompanied by “high levels of corruption” and “ethnic conflict.” The Council on Foreign Relations explains that easy answers are not in the offing, unfortunately. So many families rely on the meager income from such mining that the biggest exporters, including China, are working “formalizing” the extraction of such minerals and devising programs to mitigate the many evils involved.
Worldwide reach of sourcing battery materials shows much comes from conflict zones
In the abstract for the Royal Society paper, members of two Chinese academic groups point out, “With the growing applications of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) in many areas, their recycling becomes a necessary task. Although great effort has been made in LIB recycling, there remains an urgent need for green and energy-efficient approaches.”
Since the materials being recycled would preclude their extraction under unfortunate circumstances, there would be social and economic consequences for producing countries, making the necessary choices even harder. The responsible necessity for such recycling, however, would mean much less planet-warming energy use, as with aluminum. GreenBiz.com reports the average beer or pop can “contains an average of 73 percent recycled content.” This saves an estimated 90 percent in extraction and refining costs.
Trying to balance the economic and social harm done to an extracting region and its people against the environmental harm of such extraction makes this an almost untenable problem.
Two Schools in China
Two Beijing groups combined resources on the cathode recycling project:
Beijing Engineering Research Center of Process Pollution Control, Institute of Process Engineering, Innovation Academy for Green Manufacture, Chinese Academy of Sciences
School of Chemical Engineering, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
Researchers were attempting to answer whether they could devise, “A greener, simpler and more energy-efficient strategy to recycle and regenerate faded LiCoO2 (lithium cobalt oxide) cathode materials with high electrochemical performance.” Researchers claim a simple, non-destructive approach that is environmentally friendly.
Recycling steps required to produce Black Mass, the source material for new batteries
Forging a circular path for the materials in lithium ion batteries (LIBs) is essential to the economic development of these cells. Researchers note that LIBs in consumer products such as cell phones and portable computers last only one to three years, while transportation batteries can serve for eight or more years. Waste, especially in consumer electronics, often ends up in landfills rather than being reused or even upcycled.
The paper highlights the dangers of landfill dumping. “By 2020, the number of spent LIBs in China’s CEs products will reach about 5.5 billion. If handled improperly, toxic and flammable fluorine-containing organic electrolytes and heavy metals such as nickel, cobalt and copper will ooze out of these LIBs. According to the report, 4,000 tons of spent LIBs contain more than 1,100 tons of heavy metals and 200 tons of toxic electrolytes. If spent LIBs are disposed of in landfill, it may cause toxic heavy metals to penetrate into the groundwater, causing serious environmental pollution. Likewise, if these LIBs are burned as general solid waste, a considerable amount of toxic gas will be generated, thereby polluting the atmosphere.”
On a more hopeful note, the researchers see these dumped LIBs as potential “urban mines,” with ready-to-recycle materials that can be made possibly better than new. This needs to take place locally, rather than transporting these materials to countries where lax standards enable child labor for the recycling, for instance. Years ago, your editor researched “junk” cathode ray tubes from TVs and computers that were shipped to Southeast Asian countries, where virtually no environmental or child labor laws offered protections governing their being melted down in open-air smelters. The long-term effects are horrifying.
Transporting used batteries adds to the environmental burden by shipping tons of material back and forth between the Far East and points of use in Europe and the Americas. As seen recently, such materials may end up stuck in a canal or waiting delivery offshore, another waste.
Mitigating the Hazards
Having pointed out the various hazards posed in the pre-treatment of LIB materials, including air, ground and water pollution, the paper’s authors offer some hope. To mitigate those hazards, the paper discusses the idea of “green chemistry” and other environmentally conscious methods of extracting the electrolyte and other reusable materials from the LIBs. The active materials in the cells can be reconstituted into “black mass,” a base for making new batteries.
One technique, “aqueous exfoliating and extracting solution (AEES)” used “sodium salt as the main raw material… for the separation of electrode materials. By optimizing the solvent concentration, the recovery efficiencies of the electrolyte, aluminum foil, copper foil and electrode materials reached 95.6%, 99.0%, 100% and nearly 100%, respectively.”
Diagrams showing the shape and structure components of various LIBs. (a) Cylindrical, (b) coin, (c) thin and flat, and (d) prismatic.11 (e) Conceptual schematic showing how the three recycling scenarios close battery material loops and which materials are recovered.
Another technique, “direct regeneration” involves, “direct lithium supplement of spent cathode materials by physical and chemical methods, [which] restore their electrochemical performance.”
Overall, the researchers looked at several techniques and stages in recycling, including the current state of the art. Regardless of impurities that may be introduced in the process and the need for stringent controls, the economic and environmental benefits of recycling are too huge to ignore.
The researchers look at the phases in recycling batteries. This includes a number of pretreatments, direct regeneration, ultrasonic enhancement, hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, biological metallurgy, and other processes that show the many difficulties involved. Nonetheless, they hold out the promise of recycling’s benefits at all stages. The paper is long, but well worth at least skimming to gain an appreciation of how to make batteries while protecting the world on many fronts.
The TeTra Mk. 5 is obviously not the first of its kind. A little history shows its origins in the Boeing GoFly completion – in which the team won a $100,000 “Disruptor” prize from Pratt & Whitney, the long-time engine makers.
As stunning, and confusing, the appearance of their GoFly entry was, it did not prepare your editor for the 32-rotor (plus pusher propeller) single-seater shown flying in California recently.
They flew SN2 of the Mk. 5 model in unpiloted mode, and will begin sales with serial number 3 at a yet unannounced price. One can speculate, though. Model aircraft motors such as the Hacker Q-100 cost 999 euros (about $1,163.00) each. (The makers have cleverly taped over the maker’s name on close-ups of the Oshkosh display model.) Even a lower-budget Chinese motor will cost around $500 each. An appropriate electronic speed controller (ESC) will be about half that of the motor. The 32-inch diameter carbon-fiber propellers would cost at least $60 each. At retail prices, that’s $31,968 for high-grade motors, $16,000 for controllers, and $1,920 for propellers. The lift system alone adds up to $49,888, plus the approximately $7,500 for the (MGM-Compro?) pusher motor, controller and three-bladed Helix propeller.
The 13.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack adds another $1,849 at the current $137 per kW-hr pricing that seems close to an industry standard. Your editor guesses it will be more as part of an aviation package because it will need a battery management system (BMS), on-board charger or hookup and associated hardware.
TeTra Mk. 5 SN2 as shown at 2021 Oshkosh AirVenture. (VFS photo by Rex Alexander)
SN-2 has an empty weight of 488 kilograms (1,076 pounds), the Mk. 5 can carry a 174-pound pilot, which will increase to 200 pounds for the SN-3. Maximum take-off weight is 567 kilograms (1,250 pounds), within the Light Sport Aircraft limits. At that weight, each prop would be propping up 39 pounds.
Combining triple-redundant motor and fly-by-wire flight controls with four redundant elevons (elevator plus aileron) pairs, the pilot can trust his or her commands will be carried out with some assurance.
SN2, and probably SN3 onwards have aluminum, and carbon fiber reinforced plastic construction (CFRP) and a CFRP/aramid fiber (such as Kevlar) “crumple” cabin. The machine has an unspecified glide ratio, but a ballistic parachute to arrest things just in case.
The 8.62-meter (28.28-foot) span will carry the SN3 151 kilometers (94 miles) at a cruise speed of 144 kilometers per hour (89.4 mph), and SN4 for 100 miles at 160 km/hr (100 mph). That seems to presume a larger battery pack and a higher overall weight.
It’s a good thing the triple-redundant control system is on board to keep the 32 motors under a tight rein, and to watch over whatever additional features will come in the future.
But Wait! There’s More
For a longer interview with some of the airplane’s principle developers, this goes into the background and many details.