Horizon Energy Systems (HES), originally based in Singapore, has pursued lightweight hydrogen propulsion systems for the last 12 years, primarily for amall drones.  Going larger, the company announced plans today for Element One, “the world’s first regional hydrogen-electric passenger aircraft.”

HES Element One will fly four on 14 hydrogen-powered motors

A four-passenger, 14-motored (!) monoplane, Element One will carry the lucky foursome 500 to 5,000 kilometers (310 to 3,100 statute miles).  This distributed power system claims “virtually no change to its current drone-scale systems,” which is a little puzzling, considering the largest of such systems produces no more than 1,000 Watts.  The scale of the Element One and its power packs is ambiguous, with illustrations showing a nine-axle trailer with attached solar panels ostensibly powering the on-site production of H2.

HES fueling station uses solar power to generate hydrogen, then stores it in easily swapped pods that plug into motors

One illustration depicts a drone-launching site with fuel pods possibly approximating the size of the units that will be used on Element One.  These are larger and their scale relative to the people in the illustration gives an approximation of their size.

H2 containers plug into power modules, appear to have controls for interaction with motor

The pods are part of an autonomous refueling system developed by HES and its partner H3 Dynamics, working from Aerospace Valley, an R&D center in France.  They note, “One of H3 Dynamics’ divisions specializes in ultra-light hydrogen energy systems for aeronautical applications (drones), light mobility (soldier systems) or data capture in remote areas.”  This pairing has established partnerships with a wide variety of European firms, academic and industrial organizations.

Dedicated refueling trolleys will retrieve used fuel pods, insert freshly charged units

That range will enable greater performance than that of other technologies, according to HES founder Taras Wankewycz.  “It’s now possible to break past the endurance limits of battery-electric flight using HES’ ultra-light hydrogen energy storage in a distributed propulsion arrangement.  Element One’s design paves the way for renewable hydrogen as a long-range fuel for electric aviation.”  Range will depend on whether the hydrogen is stored in liquid or gaseous form, according to HES.

Much like other regional aircraft, Element One can open, “new aerial routes between smaller towns and rural areas using an existing and dense network of small-scale airports and aerodromes.”  As noted before in this blog, that vision parallels that of William T. Piper, who saw his Cubs and Tri-Pacers landing on grass fields all over rural America, connecting village and towns that would otherwise not have airline access.

On the infrastructure front, HES partners with Wingly, a French startup offering “flight sharing services for decentralized and regional air travel.”  Emeric de Waziers, CEO of Wingly, explains his firm’s hopes in this new field.  “We analyzed the millions of destination searches made by the community of 200,000 pilots and passengers on our platform and confirm there is a tremendous need for inter-regional transport between secondary cities”, says. “By combining autonomous emission-free aircraft such as Element One, digital community-based platforms like Wingly and the existing high-density network of airfields, we can change the paradigm. France alone offers a network of more than 450 airfields but only 10% of these are connected by regular airlines. We will simply connect the remaining 90%.”

Element One with solar-powered fueling support system

To support that network of airports, “HES announced its plans to begin associating on-site hydrogen generation with fuel cell powered unmanned aircraft across a network of hydrogen-ready airports, in preparation for larger-scale electric aircraft such as Element One.  HES is now in discussion with industrial-scale hydrogen producers to explore energy-efficient refueling systems using renewable solar or wind energy produced locally.”

With plans to fly it first aircraft in 2025, HES has time to develop a viable prototype, test it, and make that craft ready for production.  Its plans are similar to that of the German HY4 flying into a “hydrogen-ready” network of regional airports.  Certainly, the expansion of solar-powered H2 in both countries will mean “clean hydrogen” could be a potent power source in the future.


Lithium-Oxygen Battery Breakthrough

The University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada – not far from Niagara Falls) News, reported, “Chemists make breakthrough on the road to creating a rechargeable lithium-oxygen battery.”  Dr. Linda Nazar, Canada Research Chair in Solid State Energy Materials, led a team that “Resolved two of the most challenging issues surrounding lithium-oxygen batteries, and in the process created a working battery with near 100 per cent coulombic efficiency.”

The new work, which appears this week in the journal Science, Proves that four-electron conversion for lithium-oxygen electrochemistry is highly reversible.”  Waterloo is the first to achieve this, doubling electron storage in lithium-oxygen (Li-O2 – also known as lithium-air) batteries.  The video below touches on this and a great many other chemistries.

Dr. Nazar explains, “There are limitations based on thermodynamics.  Nevertheless, our work has addressed fundamental issues that people have been trying to resolve for a long time.”  As noted in the abstract for the Science paper, when Dr. Nazar and her colleagues changed from using an organic electrolyte to an inorganic molten salt, and replaced a porous carbon cathode to “a bifunctional metal oxide catalyst,” they reduced cell degradation and electrolyte consumption.  This extended cycle life and produced near 100-percent Coulombic efficiency (almost every electron that goes into the battery is stored and available for output when called upon).

They achieve the near-theoretical energy density of Li-O2 cells while giving a “highly-reversible” charge/discharge characteristic and long life.

The lead author on the study is Chun Xia, a postdoctoral fellow, and co-author is Chun Yuen Kwok, a PhD student, both in Nazar’s lab.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in part funded the project through their Discovery Grants and Canada Research Chair programs, along with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.

The abstract for the Science article, “A high-energy-density lithium-oxygen battery based on a reversible four-electron conversion to lithium oxide,” includes reasons lithium-oxygen cells have not been successful up to now.

Batteries based on lithium metal and oxygen could offer energy densities an order of magnitude larger than that of lithium ion cells. But, under normal operation conditions, the lithium oxidizes to form peroxide or superoxide. Xia et al. show that, at increased temperatures, the formation of lithium oxide is favored, through a process in which four electrons are transferred for each oxygen molecule (see the Perspective by Feng et al.). Reversible cycling is achieved through the use of a thermally stable inorganic electrolyte and a bi-functional catalyst for both oxygen reduction and evolution reactions.”

Another report in Science magazine adds to the potential for Dr. Nazar and her team’s findings.

Since lithium-oxygen batteries could store up to 10 times more power than their “conventional” lithium cousins, rail-car-sized batteries could act as backups for a green energy grid. “Storing excess wind and solar power and delivering it on demand.”

So far, the Nazar team’s batteries have no degradation out to 150 cycles.  As they demonstrate further charge/discharge cycles, they will eventually show their ability to take on the big jobs of the future.  Although today’s lithium-oxygen batteries require further development, the idea of a 10 times improvement in energy density and long cycle life would certainly find a place in the green flight realm.


Al Bowers and the Bell-Shaped Curve

Al Bowers has promoted a different kind of lift distribution curve for wings in his talks at the Experimental Soaring Association’s Western workshop, held every Labor Day weekend at Mountain Valley Airport in Tehachapi, California.  Most aerodynamics textbooks model the elliptical lift distribution as an ideal to be achieved in wing design.   R. J. Mitchell, designer of the classic Spitfire fighter, incorporated an elliptical planform, which serendipitously allowed room for the Browning machine guns in the capacious inboard sections.  What could be wrong with that when the finest sailplanes exploit that same theory in their slender spans?

Albion Bowers is retiring Chief Scientist at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base.  His experiments with an alternative way of spreading the lift across a wing have inspired several large models of how a wing with a bell-shaped lift distribution curve might appear – and perform.  Two years ago, he and Erich Chase, a well-known build of high-end boats, brought a full-sized 49.2 foot (15 meter) hang glider wing to the Workshop. It was displayed with an equally low-drag passenger/cargo pod the next spring in San Francisco.

Interns Help Drive Progress

To achieve so much, Al has mentored a large number of NASA interns, 13 of 22 women this last year – a number and a cause he vigorously supports.  Interns have helped build and instrument the ever larger models of his Prandtl-D and Prandtl-M flying wings.  They have flown them on the dry lakes that ring Edwards, with accumulated data showing them to perhaps be the lowest-drag wings in the world.

His interview with Jim “Zoom” Campbell of Aero-News Network gives an abbreviated rendition of Al’s research and the ideas that led to his Prandtl-D and –M wings.

Justin Hall spreads mold release on female mold from which Prandtl-M wings will be pulled. Some of his handiwork may fly on Mars someday

Your editor and friend Mary Maxwell recently visited the model shop at NASA Armstrong where Al Bowers gave us a grand tour.  We watched Justin Hall pull Prandtl-M skins from highly accurate female molds, and were able to hold these small wings which will someday descend through the thin Martian atmosphere.

Prandtl-D number 3 took up a large part of the shop, and Al and Mary were able to demonstrate the extreme downwash at the wing’s tips – part of the way in which the wing achieves low drag and proverse yaw.  It also helps stabilize the wing in flight with excellent results for trim and handling.  Al is most excited that the well-instrumented model was able to return data in its last flights, validating Al’s theories and providing a basis for further development.

Note distinct difference between angle of airfoil at root and at tip. Angle differences around 12 degrees are necessary to achieve bell-shaped lift distribution.  Note to photographer – tell your subjects when you’re ready to take the picture

Prandtl and the Hortons

Interestingly, Al noted that Ludwig Prandtl and the Horton Brothers included discussions of the bell-shaped curve in their writings, but neither referenced the other’s findings in their own documentation.  For whatever reason, only the elliptical distribution became the standard all these years.

Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber on its first test flight in 1947

Ironically, Captain Glen Edwards, for whom Edwards Air Force Base is named, was flying the prototype B-49 bomber, a flying wing, when it crashed in the Mojave Desert not far from the base on June 5, 1948.  The cause may have been aerodynamic flutter caused by the airplane exceeding its red-line velocity.  One wonders if today’s triple-redundant computer controls – or even a bell-shaped lift distribution might have helped avert that tragedy.


SmartFlyer is Looking Smart

Only a design concept just a few years ago, the SmartFlyer hybrid aircraft is swiftly approaching full-fledged reality.  CEO Rolf Stuber started the project and has been joined by Daniel Wenger, who shares design honors with him; and eleven others with a dazzling array of skills and degrees.  Every member of the team has built, flies or has flown in everything from gliders to “heavy” airliners.

The team’s goal is to craft a “proof of concept” airplane which will fly by 2021.

SmartFlyer on a computer screen shows the configuration and location of major components

Facebook Updates

Recent Facebook photographs show a nose section with a Rotax 914 engine driving a special generator, yards of orange cable connecting the big pieces, and a set of formers for what will probably be the fuselage mold.

Pilots and passengers will enjoy a wrap-around view, described on SmartFlyer’s Facebook page thus: “This will be the boundless view for passengers out of the smartflyer in the air. Safety for scanning the airspace by the pilot. It will be quiet in the cabin, no headphones needed and you can speak like inside a car. A real jet-feeling.  Let‘s fly into the weekend and into the electric future of aviation.”

Wrap-around view, simplified instrumentation will delight pilots and passengers

Anticipated Performance

Anticipated performance figures seem reasonable.  A cruise speed of 120 knots (138 mph) and a range of 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles) are not implausible and probably conservative.  With takeoff power of 160 kilowatts (214.5 hp) from its tail-mounted Siemens motor and a takeoff mass of 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) takeoff distance and rate of climb should be similar to aircraft such as Cessna 182’s.  The range-extender Rotax should enable the four-hour endurance noted in the specs.  The drive motor will cruise at a maximum continuous power of 120 kW, so the banks of batteries stowed in the wings should stay reasonably charged with an unstated reserve and enough oomph for a go-around if necessary.

Students learning about SmartFlyer with Rotax engine in foreground

A Similar Design in Germany

Similar in size and general layout (but with a low, rather than a high wing) Stuttgart University’s Eco 4 incorporates a nose-mounted engine and tail-mounted motor.  That configuration had brought e-Genius to a close second-place win in the 2011 Green Flight Challenge, and an outright win in noise category.  e-Genius  may be the quietest airplane in the world even today.  The similarities between e-Genius, Eco 4 and SmartFlyer, and  should guarantee success for both four-seaters.

Stuttgart University’s Eco 4. Note high mounting of propeller, Professor Voit-Nitschmann’s way to reduce drag to a minimum on e-Genius

Let’s hope to see SmartFlyer airborne in time for the third SmartFlyer Challenge in 2019 – and maybe a return for e-Genius and a first showing for Eco 4.  That would be a great electric airshow.


Just as Richard Starke was explaining to Experimental Soaring Association attendees at this year’s Western Workshop how his proposed stratospheric cargo glider program would work, some multi-tasker checking his tablet shouted, “Perlan’s reached 76,000 feet!”

Richard’s concept of launching cargo gliders that would ride the jet stream between continents was suddenly validated before an audience that a few minutes before might have been dazzled and even skeptical of his proposal.  Perlan’s tows behind the recently recruited Grob Egret turboprop towplane made 10,000 feet in 10 minutes a time-to-climb reality, and tows to 40,000 feet allowed rapid exploration of developing air masses over the Patagonian mountains.

The idea of flying large, cargo-carrying gliders goes back to at least Word War Two, with flotillas of Waco CG-4s and British Horsas descending on the French mainland on D-Day. The Russians even had a glider large enough to carry a tank into battle.

Bowlus CG-7 designed by co-designer of Spirit of St. Louis was large WW II cargo carrier

Hawley Bowlus, who had been in on the design of the Spirit of St. Louis and who taught the Lindbergh’s to fly sailplanes at the Tehachapi gliderport where the Workshop is held, was represented by the presence of Jeff Byard’s lovely Baby Albatross in the hangar.  Bowlus designed a large CG-7 cargo glider for the war effort.

These historical antecedents and present-day realities give credibility to the potential Richard’s ideas might have.  The atmospheric realities are now well documented and increasingly understood.  Richard’s depiction of the manner in which jet streams are formed and predicted with some accuracy could make high altitude cargo gliders a scheduled delivery system.

Earth’s wind patterns, schematic view. Jet stream is hgh-altitude phenomenon which might enable gliders to traverse oceans.  Orange tubes represent jet streams formed between opposing large air masses

His concept for an autonomous glider that could travel from his example of Chengdu, China to Denver, Colorado in three to 10 days looks a great deal like a 4X Antares H2, with cargo pods replacing the hydrogen tanks under the Lange machine’s wings.  He even foresees using a Perlan research vehicle with self-launching capabilities from an Alexander Schleicher ASG-32’s electric motor system to test out his concepts.

Richard Starke’s stratospheric cargo glider would enable enable intercontinental deliveries

Certainly, current high-altitude drones and projects such as SolarStratos will add to the available knowledge about this high-altitude realm, where Richard’s concept would combine high-altitude tows, dynamic soaring and autonomous guidance to deliver the goods.


Wireless Charging for Drones

In its introduction, Global Energy Transmission Corporation (GET) promises virtually indefinite flight for multi-rotor aircraft.  “GET re-invents [the] commercial drone industry providing [a] technical solution to power drones in 24×7 mode around dedicated area[s]. An electrically powered drone can recharge and fly indefinitely via efficient safe high power in-flight rapid recharging in a GET power hotspot. The company’s distance wireless charging technologies uniquely enable drone delivery and many other industrial applications.and many other industrial applications.”  This wireless charging concept goes back a long way.

Tesla’s Dream

In the film The Prestige, key parts center on visits to Nikola Tesla’s laboratory in upstate New York, where the tower that dominates the grounds was one of his dreams.  Although never completed in real life, images of its planned form captivated readers and promised endless supplies of electrical energy to the world – with power from Niagara Falls flowing to land and sea wirelessly.

New York American, May 22, 1904: Tesla’s Tower – Amazing Scheme of the Great Inventor to Draw Millions of Volts of Electricity Through the Air From Niagara Falls and Then Feed It Out to Cities, Factories and Private Houses from the Tops of the Towers Without Wires.  Credit: The Tesla Society

Whether even the mighty Niagara could power the world (Tesla might have been forced to build additional towers at Victoria or Angel Falls, for instance), the idea of wireless transmission of energy has its adherents.  Lockheed Martin and a company called LaserMotive kept a fixed wing drone aloft for 48 hours by beaming laser-focused energy its way in 2012.  LaserMotive has recently changed its name to PowerLight Technologies, but continues its research in powering drones and other electrical devices remotely.

An Eight-Meter Diameter Open Field Charger

Today, another company offers a way to recharge aerial drones in flight.  “Global Energy Transmission Corporation (GET) Presents a new Distant Wireless Power Technology that can power industrial drones with a range of many meters from a safe, simple easy to install power transmission cord (energy transmitter).”  In fact, the company suggests that it can project energy over a mile, but apparently only if the cord is stretched that far.  “The key feature of the technology is a long length flexible transmission cord, which forms [an] area of energy reception with a distance of up to 20 meters from the transmission cord. The transmission cord can be much longer and reaching 100s of meters or even several miles!”

Awarded 3rd place in Technology innovation at the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) Xponential 2018 show, GET announced and revealed its systems at the event.  One can purchase a complete setup with an eight-meter diameter charging station and two very large drones as a starter set.  The drones are fairly hefty, weighing 8.2 kilograms (18 pounds) without batteries and spanning 160 centimeters (5.25 feet).

Because of their weight, each GET drone requires 1.55 kilowatts of electricity to stay aloft (at 13.6 kilograms or 29.9 pounds), giving the eight-rotor machine a hover time of 28 minutes.  That drops with increasing vehicle weight, of course, with a machine loaded to the maximum weight of 19.6 kilograms (43.12 pounds) being able to hover for only 16.2 minutes.  At a maximum cruise speed of 60 kilometers per hour (37.2 miles per hour), the fully-loaded drone can travel about 10 miles between charging stations.

hovering requires thrust equal to the weight of the multi-rotor vehicle, while a fixed wing aircraft uses only a fraction of that power to travel quickly with the same maximum weight.  This brings about the possibility of employing craft that would hover to recharge and move on in horizontal mode.  A network could then spread over a wider area with fewer charging stations.

Certainly, the principles at GET have found a way to recharge an aircraft wirelessly.  Future developments may see larger machines and even faster charging, with the possibility that long-range flights of people-sized payloads might be possible.  Tesla might be cheering this group on.


The Second SmartFlyer Challenge 2018

Grenchen Airport in Switzerland held the second SmartFlyer Challenge on September 1st and 2nd, with a good showing for the European – and especially the Czech electric aircraft industry.  Although smaller in numbers of airplanes than last year’s premier event, the Challenge featured a series of top-drawer presentations by industry leaders, and the viewing of a new Czechoslovokian electric motorglider.

A Distinguished Visitor

Interest in the event is high in the Canton of Solothurn, the administrative region in which Grenchen resides.  The head of the Department of Economics for the Canton, Brigit Wyss, reported on the event in her personal blog.  She proclaimed, “Grenchen establishes itself as the European center of electric aviation. The Smartflyer Challenge, which was a novelty a year ago, caught the attention of the representatives of the electrical aviation industry in the second issue.  Although fewer aircraft were present than a year ago, the exchange and networking among the actors continued seamlessly.  The international character of the event is underlined by the fact that guests from Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and the USA were at the Grenchen regional airport.”

Hans Marthaler (right) explains to Councilor Brigit Wyss (left) as well as Grenchens Bürgergemeinde President Franz Schilt and his wife Trudi the electric aircraft Pipistrel Alpha.  Pipistrel had its charger on hand, probably comparable to the Czech ΦNIX unit

The Grenchner Tablat reported one reason for the smaller turnout this year.  “‘The accident of Siemens electric aircraft has noticeably unsettled and thrown back the scene.’ René Meier from the organizing committee of the second ‘Smartflyer Challenge’ in Grenchen did not mince matters to the media. At the beginning of June, a prototype of an eFusion type aircraft of the Hungarian manufacturer Magnus Aircraft crashed with propulsion technology and batteries from Siemens eAircraft on board in Hungary. The experienced pilot and a passenger were killed. It was the first accident of the still young [aircraft] scene with fatal outcome. According to Meier, there are still no findings about the cause of the accident.”

MGM Compro Makes a Good Showing

Only two Swiss products made the show on their home turf, the SmartFlyer (an entry soon on this promising hybrid) and the Archaeopteryx glider.  Pipistrel brought its Alpha Electro Trainer and a charging station.  All other aircraft on display came from the Czech Republic, with MGM Compro powering five of them.  An MGM motor also powered the Archaeopteryx.

ΦNIX – Polishing a Green Flight Challenge Competitor

One promising newcomer, premiered at this year’s Aero Expo in Friedrichshafen, seems to have a variety of ways to increase range and endurance with on-board range extenders, and ensure readily-available charging on the ground.  Pure Flight Solutions, the manufacturer of the system, promotes the “possibility of solar support, or battery storage support for maximum charging power,” with four outlets providing up to 100 kW each.  According to Pure Flight, the charger can accommodate aircraft and cars with CHAdeMO, CCS and ΦNIX connectors.

The airplane is a development of the Phoenix motorglider which participated in the 2011 Green Flight Challenge.  It was the only fully gasoline-powered machine in the contest, both the Pipistrel G4 and e-Genius being battery-powered and the Embry Riddle entry being a hybrid.  The Czech developer attempted to produce an electric Phoenix with retractable gear, but did not make it in time for the Challenge.  Jim Lee and co-pilot Jeff Shingleton flew the production version with a Rotax engine and finished with a creditable third place while garnering interest in the versatile machine.

Incidentally, the airplane’s name is a bit of a pun, Φ being the Greek letter phi.  As the manufacturer explains, “Φ – It is the Greek letter”phi.”  The name is from [the] petrol version – Phoenix and from physics – Φ is the electrical potential.”  The firm’s goal is more straightforward, though:  “Realization of alternative propulsion systems based on electrical energy with new technology like using mechanical, magnetic or aerodynamic range extenders.”

The new electric airplane looks like a modestly improved version of the seven-year-old machine, and features a Rotex electric REX 90 motor which produces 60 kilowatts (80.4 horsepower) from its 16.9 kilogram (37.18 pound) mass.  It swings a new propeller designed especially for electric power. In-flight adjustable, the 1.6 meter (5.25 feet) two-blade unit weighs only five kilograms (11 pounds).   The glass cockpit is simple, functional, and if as comfortable as the Phoenix your editor tried in 2011, desirable.

Despite the reduced participation, this year’s Challenge helps establishes Grenchen as a serious community for future flight, and MGM Compro as a firm able to supply motors in a wide range of outputs and applications.  We look forward to next year’s event, with a broader representation and some promising aircraft under development ready for their public debut.


Print ‘Em and Stick ‘Em Solar Cells

University of Newcastle (UON) researchers may have achieved a breakthrough in creating solar cells on flexible plastic made in a roll-to-roll process with an unbelievably low price and equally incredible sensitivity.  They seem to have succeeded where an American firm failed half a decade ago.

Printed solar cells were first attempted about a decade ago, with Konarka trying to make solar cells on simple ink-jet printers.  The company failed, despite having a Nobel Prize winner and other top physicist and chemists overseeing the process.  The “cells” never achieved more than about four- or five-percent efficiency and their plastic substrate deteriorated rapidly.

Professor Dastoor with an early installation of his flexible, printed solar film

Today, The University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, and CHEP, a client firm, are displaying their thin-cell, recyclable plastic solar film that can be stuck to things with double-sided tape.  Used initially to monitor response to different solar conditions, the recently-installed film shows some highly-desirable characteristics.  Professor Paul Dastoor claims, “Our printed solar solution continues to function consistently in low light and under cloud cover, which means that users don’t experience dips in productivity.”

So sensitive, the material can even produce small quantities of energy from moonlight (no efficiency numbers are given), it also costs a somewhat unbelievable $10 Australian ($7.15 USD) per square meter (10.76 square feet).  Your editor had to reread the numbers and check the calculations, but 1,000 square feet of this material would cost only about $715 USD.

In the video, one sees a connector plate that runs down the side of the building to a probable termination at an inverter.  One sees the installation on a corrugated metal roof double-sided tape.  One wonders how long the plastic substrate will last in Australia’s, or southern Florida’s sun and how soon some experimenter will tape the film to a wing and power a battery pack.

Questioned as to whether we will be able to go to a Home Depot or Lowes to get enough solar film to roll out on our roofs, Dastoor responds with a different business plan.  “In future, we expect users might sign onto this energy solution in a similar way to a mobile phone plan, where you determine your usage requirements, pay a monthly service fee, but never need to ‘own’ the infrastructure. The service provider installs and upgrades your service for you as the technology continues to develop.”

UON solar cells can be applied with little more than double-sided tape

Working with CHEP (Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool) UON hopes to test out its technology, already doubling output from one installation to the next.  CHEP makes pallets, which we see on the ground behind their ground-breaking roof in the video, making plain why the CHEP representative compares the solar film to those load carriers.

Professor Dastoor has shepherded the process from the beginning, and sees a bright future for his brainchild.  “We have developed every aspect of the system in-house at the University of Newcastle, from the creation of the electronic inks to the printing and installation process.

“Then via experiments such as this commercial installation with CHEP we make vital tweaks to the system, which edge us ever closer to our goal of seeing this renewable energy technology on every roof.”

Or perhaps every airplane.  Eric Raymond flew across the United States in 1990 on available, not very efficient, solar cells.  These sound a great deal more powerful, and the cost will doubtless lure a great many experimenters to try them.


Dr. Birgit Weißenbach of Elektra Solar GmbH and PC-Aero announced “The world’s strongest multifunctional solar-electric HALE aerial vehicle – the Elektra Two Solar: [with] “Take-off, flight and tough-down” successfully completed with [its] own autopilot system

Elektra Solar Two returning from its successful mission

We usually think of HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) aircraft as being huge, sun-eclipsing things like AeroVironment’s flying wings or Boeing’s Phantom Eye.  These require large support systems and ground crews, much like the team that chased Solar Impulse around the world.

Elektra Solar GmbH, a joint venture combining PC-Aero GmbH and Elektra UAS GmbH, uses aircraft designed by Calin Gologen, head of PC-Aero, and computer technology from Dr. Ing. Habil. Konstantin Kondak.  Since October, 2009 he headed a key research area, Flying Robots at DLR’s Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich.

Their collaboration led to two svelte HALEs, the smaller Elektra One Solar (a veteran of a solar-powered Alpine crossing) and the larger Elektra Two Solar.  This airplane is also the basis for Raphael Domjan’s SolarStratos, intended to take adventurous souls to 75,000 feet, close to the Perlan’s record altitude.  Last week’s flight of the Two was a demonstration of the new redundant autopilot system, which successfully completed several autonomous flights without human intervention, even though a safety pilot was aboard.  Elektra Solar reports, “With no problems and in less than ideal weather conditions, take-offs and landings took place. During the flights various parameters and modes of the whole system were tested.”

On the ground, Elektra Solar Two shows small bubble canopy for safety pilot

Dr. Konstantin explains, “We have taken a giant step towards the stratosphere and are very optimistic that we will be able to fly in a short time with our next aircraft at altitudes up to 20 [kilometers].

“We are not yet able to achieve this goal with the current aircraft. However, in order to achieve this, we followed new paths in the manufacture of the next aircraft in process and production technology.”

The firm, located in the Bavarian city of Landsberg am Lech “manufactures manned and unmanned aircraft for scientific and commercial tasks.”  The company claims independence from suppliers, being able to make everything in-house, with 100-percent value added.  Development of control algorithms and systems receives support from “close cooperation” with the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.

Both “aircraft are characterized by long flight times and are able to carry payloads of up to 100 kilograms.  The double-redundant, solar-electric propulsion system is powered by the sun.”  Motors are arranged on a single output shaft with one or both able to provide power at any time.  Full power is 32 kilowatts.

The craft are served by dual redundancy on the motors and triple redundancy on the control system.  This ensures systems reliability and the “robust construction of the structure… allows uncomplicated and economical operation of the systems.”  Combined with virtually noiseless operation and the “highly efficient ‘Energy-Saving-Concept’… supported by the latest state of the art extremely powerful solar cells,” the airplane should be able to meet its objectives of “day and night flight missions for a wide variety of economical applications.”


Futurism  ponders, “Sugar, Light, And A New Type of Chemistry — What It May Take To Wean Us Off Fossil Fuels” in an article by Dan Robitzki.  The topic brings a new term into your editor’s vocabulary – BioLEC – Bioinspired Light Escalated Chemistry.  The goal of such chemistry is to use the energy of two photons, “the tiniest quantifiable units of light, to power chemical reactions.”  This takes us into how trees and other photosynthesizing plants use quantum theory to make things grow.

Trees Have Been Doing it For Years

It’s a bit odd to think of trees and quantum physics in the same sentence.  Your editor used to think of sunlight striking leaves and chemistry taking place in a leisurely way inside while the tree or bush grew.  It turns out that things take place at light speed inside the tree, with quantum activity in abundance.

Outdoing Mother Nature?

Researchers have tried to outdo Mother Nature with artificial leaves.  One of the early proponents of this approach, Daniel Nocera of Harvard claimed ,“This hybrid microbial | artificial leaf system, called the bionic leaf, operates at unprecedented solar-to-biomass (10.7%) and solar-to-liquid fuels (6.2%) yields, greatly exceeding the 1% yield of natural photosynthesis.”  He and his partner, Pamela Silver, continue to expand that potential.  Other researchers such as Nathan Lewis at CalTech, have their own programs with varying means of using enhanced photosynthesis.

To further such research, the U.S. Department of Energy set aside $100 million this year to fund 22 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) and renew several others. One of them, a new lab at Princeton University, is slated to receive almost $11 million over four years.  Their team is attempting to power the world with plants and industrial waste.

Gregory Scholes, a Princeton chemist and the Director of the BioLEC project, thinks that we can achieve that by using BioLEC to duplicate what happens inside a leaf in the laboratory – and then control the process to gain desired outcomes.

As reported in a Princeton news item, “Under the leadership of Gregory Scholes, the William S. Tod Professor of Chemistry, the research center will seek to ‘employ light harvesting and advances in solar photochemistry to enable unprecedented photo-induced cross-coupling reactions that valorize abundant molecules.’  The center aims to revolutionize chemist’s ability to make new molecules, fuels, and materials by using the collective energy of two packets (quanta) light to break and make strong chemical bonds. A new range of chemical building blocks will be picked apart, aided by the sun’s energy, and crafted into new structures with valuable functions.”

Carbon-based substances such as sugar or alcohol, according to Futurism, “Contain a chain of carbon atoms connected to an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom (OH).”  Apparently the bonds linking carbon atoms are hard to break.  adding an extra photon would weaken that bond.

Robitzki explains, “If we could break down those bonds, we could create jet fuel, which is another molecule mostly made up of carbons. On paper, it seems easy to get from alcohols to fuel — just link the carbons together in a certain way and discard the oxygen atoms in the form of pure water.”  Making jet fuel, however, requires the added energy of a second photon to break all the bonds.  Right now, that’s too hard for “even the  most advanced scientific tools we have.”

This Takes a Special Kind of Sharpshooter

That extra photon would have to hit a catalyst, striking it “With…  a very precise amount of energy at the exact right time to the exact right part of something that’s too small to see. There’s so much precision required, in fact, that no one has been able to figure it out.”

Starting with things abundant in nature, including light itself, and making fossil-free fuels without going through the messy and dangerous processes those involve would certainly be a blessing to the planet.  Robitzki speculates that if we can extract jet fuel from sugar cane, we should be able to use the same techniques to extract useable products from industrial waste or garbage.  He sees this as a way to drive down the cost of energy and “Get rid of the carbon emissions that come from burning these fuels once we have them.”

Scholes says, “We think our research will work because nature uses similar principles in photosynthesis.  It sort of sounds simple. ‘Oh, absorb light twice.  It’s a lot more difficult than that. We have all sorts of strategies, and that’s why it takes all sorts of people.”

Scholes and his team also have  the  Laser Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF). Located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, one of two facilities in the country…  capable of a technique called pulse radiolysis that might just break those carbon bonds — and that new field of chemistry — wide open.”

If Big, Dumb Plants Can Do It…

Shooting  powerful, extremely short-lived bursts of electrons through the molecules being studied. LEAF observes the resulting reactions.  “These electron beams collide with and energize the molecules, which triggers chemical reactions that break and form new, powerful bonds between the atoms in that molecule.”

The BioLEC team observes the billionth-of-a-second reactions, and study the intermediate steps of that reaction.  They will somehow observe “all of the various structures and shapes that the molecules assume as they respond to the added energy, as Matthew Bird, a chemist at the Brookhaven National Lab who works at LEAF, explains to Futurism via email.”

The article concludes, “It’s a daunting task. In such early stages, it’s impossible to know whether or not Scholes and his team can accomplish all their goals in just four years. But he is optimistic that they can do it. After all, the underlying science already exists. If a whole bunch of big, dumb plants can figure out how to absorb a second photon, why can’t we?

“’It is super exciting, actually, to think about what we could achieve, and to bring colleagues and people together to do this,’  Scholes says. ‘I think what’s exciting to me is there’s gonna be some real high-impact science along the way. This is not incremental work.’”