Zeva Zero – the Return of the Puffin?

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.

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The EleFanT in the Room

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.

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Thomas Senkel and Electric Vertical Mobility

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

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.

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Embraer’s Energia Family

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 presentation, which sent virtual representations of the four craft flying out into the crowd, took place to coincide with COP26 (the Congress of Parties) being held in Glasgow, Scotland.  Its choices of pure electric, hybrid-electric, hydrogen-electric, and in its 50-passenger model, hydrogen or SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) driving turbine engines are all moving toward a “net-zero” goal.

Two for Nine

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.”

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A Different Type of Kitplane

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.

Gabriel managed research and design for the motor and related systems on the Zero electric motorcycle.  The original unit has gone through several upgrades, and is now seen in variants from 27 to 110 horsepower.   The company sold over 4,000 units last year in 30 countries including the United States.  They look to build at an accelerated rate, hoping to double sales every year.  He has taken that expertise to larger projects for ZeroAvia – looking to power much larger regional airliners.

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.

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Electron: an Electric Kit LSA with Promise

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.

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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:

  1. Beijing Engineering Research Center of Process Pollution Control, Institute of Process Engineering, Innovation Academy for Green Manufacture, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  2. 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.”

Urban Mines

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.

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The TeTra Mk. 5

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.

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Air Race E: the Vertical Class

“The electric VTOL class is an entirely different category of aircraft altogether. Often referred as “flying cars”, this type or aircraft is at the forefront of electric technology in aerospace. Brace yourself for The World’s First Vertical Motorsport! This race format and its rules will be somewhat different than the airplane classes and will be revealed soon.”  Air Race E promotion.

Possible Contenders

The Alauda Airspeeder

Two possible contenders (mostly) ready to race come to our attention.  The first is the Alauda Airspeeder, shown here in its Mk. 3 version.

And by dint of the International Dateline, the craft’s most recent flight came to us the same day it was recorded.

One may question how open-rotor racing at high speed can be made safe.  Alauda alludes to Acronis Cloud Protection.  “The racing series, created by performance electric flying car manufacturer Alauda, will receive technical and commercial support from Acronis, with some of the services delivered by a global provider of cybersecurity solutions, Teknov8.”  (When your editor tried that link, it was shut down.)

In the meantime, Acronis will “ensure data security” for the revolutionary LiDAR and Machine Vision technology that will deliver close but safe racing through the creation of virtual force-fields around each racing craft.”  Pilots will receive real-time data analyzing battery and key systems performance.

Jan-Jaap Jager, the Board Advisor and Senior Vice President at Acronis, says, “Our proven, integrated approach to providing easy, efficient, reliable, and secure cyber protection for all data, applications, and systems, will help Airspeeder to enhance their performance on the air track and in the back office.

Alauda sees robot “Aviators’ taking the place of pilots.  These avatar aviators will “digitally receive remote inputs and mimic the movements of the human pilot on the ground.”  A step toward future crewed racing, digital virtual competition will at least keep the body count low.

For vehicles twitchy in all three axes and possessing a power-to-weight ratio than an F-15, according to Alauda, such safety considerations must remain paramount, especially for Vertical Class racing.

The MACA Carcopter

Another Vertical Class racer, Carcopter’s most unique feature is its hydrogen fuel cell power.  It drives six 35 kilowatt (47 horsepower) motors that can carry its single occupant at speeds up to 246 kilometers per hour (152 mph).  Because, according to the company, H2’s energy density is three times that of lithium batteries, the Carcopter can travel for 35 minutes on a “charge,” or over 80 miles.

Carcopter’s zero-emission platform and aerial environment mean it is good for the environment.  Compared to a “classic” formula one car which emits 256,000 tons of CO2 per season, there are emissions.  A Formula 1 car goes through 1,600 tires per car per season!

Alauda and Carcopter each have seemingly viable machines, but neither has an integrated plan to enable head-to-head racing in your editor’s opinion.  There needs to be an overseeing group such as Air Race E to put together rules and schedules before a truly meaningful series of events can take place.  Air Race E already has a designated class for vehicles like these, but with few competitors yet.

If races are as short as for the fixed-wing racers, Carcopter’s hydrogen range might not present an advantage, but would be of consequence in longer competitions.  Formula 1 cars have fuel tanks restricted to 100 kilograms (26 gallons) and may not refuel during a race.  Such restrictions in battery capacity would limit all participants equally in an air race.

Although Alauda and Carcopter have ambitious schedules and plans for racing, much remains to be sorted out.  In the meantime, other craft with similar configurations may provide fun and excitement at lower speeds.

Jetson Aero

Because the press seems to invariably evoke the memory of the Jetsons of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame, the creator of this machine couldn’t resist assuming the name for his “flying car.”  The first video is of the first prototype

While the first outing saw the pilot controlling things by a radio control setup, the most recent version has a more robust carbon fiber and aluminum frame, automatic hover and recovery for pilot safety, and a ballistic parachute if all else fails.  Lidar sensors and triply redundant controls help avoid obstacles and ensure safety.  Jetson claims the loss of any one of the eight powerplants will not interfere with continued safe flight.

Fairly light for an eVTOL multi-rotor, the Jetson weighs only 90 kilograms (198 pounds) and can carry an 85-kilogram (187-pound) pilot.  Flight speed is limited to ultralight levels at a top of 63 mph and flight time is limited to 20 minutes.  The eight motors can put out a maximum of 88 kilowatts.

CycloRotor

One oddity with similar performance might be the CycloRotor, what in boats would be a side-wheeler.

As noted, the 1923 patent did not work out until now because of material limitations.  The current version has elicited over a million views on YouTube since its introductory video a few days ago.  We will go into further exploration of this concept in the near future.  Its German designers seem to have grand ambitions for the concept.

Whether rotary-wing eRacers will be able to compete with their fixed-wing counterparts remains to be seen.  In the meantime, they and their sporting variants can offer some advantages for those looking for a unique entrée to flight.

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Group 14: The Next Battery Innovation?

Tina Casey, writing in Clean Technica, reflects on the coming changes in the “gasmobile” to EV ratio.  “Somewhere in the outer reaches of talk radio, a ghost stalks the halls, mumbling of light bulbs and plastic bags and electric cars that won’t start in cold weather. Meanwhile, most automakers are not waiting around for the other shoe to drop. They have finally begun pivoting into the sparkling green world of zero emission personal mobility, even those once wedded to the idea of ‘clean diesel,’ and a new battery formula is here to help.”

CEO Rick Leubbe guides Governor Jay Inslee visiting Group 14’s plant in Woodinville, Washington

Her article, “Game Over For Gasmobiles: Electric Vehicle Batteries Just Keep On Getting Better,” describes efforts at Group 14, the second of two electric vehicle firms recently visited by Washington Governor Jay Inslee.  The first was Eviation, based in Arlington.

SCC55™

Group 14 is reputedly, “The largest manufacturer of lithium-silicon battery materials,” capable of producing 120 tons per year of SCC55™, its patented battery anode material.  SCC55, according to Group 14, is composed of silicon, carbide, and cleverly arranged spaces.

Under the heading, “Graphite has met its match,” Group 14 tells us, “SCC55™ has five times the capacity and affords up to 50 [percent] more energy density than conventional graphite for Lithium battery anodes. Its unique hard carbon-based scaffolding keeps silicon in the most ideal form – amorphous, nano-sized, and carbon-encased. The result is the best-in-class anode material that exhibits outstanding first cycle efficiency and long life upon Li-ion battery cycling.”

Scaffolding seems important in terms of encasing the silicon, which can expand up to 300-percent when being charged, and drop back to its original size when being discharged.  This constant flexing eventually breaks down the internal battery structure and leads to failures.

Group 14 makes the scaffold and amorphous silicon through two of its own trademarked processes.  Dryolisis™ combines dry polymerization with thermal processing in a solvent free environment to make, “The perfect carbon scaffold.”

Siligenisis™ uses a “non-exotic precursor that converts into silicon within the porous carbon scaffold.”  The amorphous (shapeless) silicon can expand and contract within the constraints of the holes in the scaffolding while reacting with the lithium without damaging the battery.

Partners Aplenty

Partners in multiple fields will lead to expanded use of the patented technology.  Group 14 promotes their batteries’ use in electric vehicles, consumer electronics, medical devices, and fortuitously, the aerospace industry.

Group 14’s largest partner may be the Geely Group in China, which owns Volvo and Polestar and their offshoot Lynk.  Geely also owns Lotus, the English Formula 1 and sports car giant, and Malaysian car maker Proton.  The Evija by Lotus is a $2.4 million, 2,000 horsepower hypercar, while Proton tends to be a little more laggard in their 21st century leap, not yet fielding an affordable electric car in their native country.

What this does is make a large base for Group 14’s batteries – all under one corporate tent.

Geely Terrafugia

With a shape said to be based on the Tiger Shark, Terrafugia’s TF-2A is a multi-rotor eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) craft helmed by one pilot and carrying two passengers.  Small compared to the Uber concepts designed four years ago, the TF-2A weighs 2,646 pounds at maximum takeoff weight, and travels up to 62 miles at a cruising speed of 112 miles.  It’s not known whether Group 14 batteries will power this machine, but it’s a Geely product.

Geely Terrafugia TF-2A carries two passengers, one pilot (for now). It gets pulled aloft by eight rotors and pushed along by one propeller

Geely also has ownership of London EV, which supplants the traditional London Diesel taxi with an electrified version, and the Geometry all-electric car company in China.  Their newest vehicle is a compact hatchback selling for around 7,900 euros (in China).  That would indicate costs for batteries for the C are able to help meet that price point. The car’s range, depending on battery pack size can be 400 kilometers to 550 km. (248 to 341 miles).  This is in a car roughly equivalent to a Nissan Leaf.

More to Come

Powermag.com reports, “In cells built and tested by Farasis utilizing Group14’s flagship silicon-carbon anode material SCC55™, the company has achieved an increase in energy density that would enable them to reach 330 Wh/kg in typical automotive cells with more than 1000 charge-discharge cycles. The battery EV cell will have a volumetric energy density of 750 Wh/l.”  Farasis is one user of Group 14 technology, and Mercedes backs Farasis.   Rick Leubbe, CEO of Group 14, says, “People talk about what might be available in 2026 or 2027.  This is a today technology that Farasis has validated works right now. ”

A further partnership with Slovakian firm Inobat will custom manufacture high energy density batteries for a variety of applications.  Marian Bocek, CEO and Co-Founder of InoBat. explains, “With automotive, commercial and aviation customers including Czech bus manufacturer SOR, InoBat creates high-margin EV batteries customizable in different cell formats such as pouch or cylindrical — both with faster development timelines than the industry norm.”  “Our goal is to contribute to the global electrification efforts. Partnering with Group14 will enable us to bring advanced energy solutions across the whole battery value chain for a variety of markets.”

Leubbe continued, ” “We’ll see these in cells in electric vehicles by 2023, but we expect to be in the majority of EV battery cells by 2025.”  With far-flung partners in an array of markets, this prediction could well be on its way to fulfillment.

Silicon and carbon combined into high-power anode material.  Group[ 14 is partnering with SK Materials to build a plant in South Korea to increase production capacity for SCC55.  Other investors have poured $18 million into Group 14’s ventures

Group 14’s demonstrated 330 Watt-hour per kilowatt energy density at the cell level should make their batteries attractive in today’s market.  With their ability to incorporate their anode material in existing manufacturing plants, rapid adaptation should pose few problems.

It will be interesting to see if Geely choose the existing battery products or variations based on the SCC55 technology, but things seem promising for Group 14.

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