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.

{ 0 comments }

Following the Sky Taxi Money: eVTOLs

As though by magic, money from Wall Street, venture capitalists and other investors show a growing interest and cash flow in sky taxis.  It started on August 11 with JoeBen Bevirt of JOBY ringing the bell that starts trading on the stock market floor.

As one web site points out, it’s up to the discretion of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as to who gets to ring the bell and, “Only those companies with stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) listed on the exchange can ring the bell.”

We’ll look at a sampling of companies making electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles and selling in domestic and foreign markets for an overview of what’s hot.  Later, we’ll look at the inroads being made by makers of fixed-wing aerial vehicles in the nascent regional market.

Archer

“The closing of the business combination (with Atlas Crest Investment Corp.) generated $857.6 million of gross proceeds, which will help fund Archer’s vision of bringing an electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eVTOL) to market and launching an urban air mobility (UAM) network.”  Archer’s Co-Founders and Co-CEOs, Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein did the honors, with workers in corporate garb cheering the event and snapping selfies.

Beta Aviation

As of May 18, Beta Technologies received $386 million in funds from a group headed by Fidelity Management & Research Company and joined by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund .  United Parcel Service (UPS) has expressed an interest in purchasing 150 Alias and Blade Urban Air Mobility wants 10 for passenger service.  United Therapeutics has backed Beta for years and will use their craft for rapid organ deliveries.

eHang

eHang trades on NASDAQ under the symbol EH.  Reaching a high $129 a share in February and dropping to $21 in recent months, one can understand the challenges faced by investors in a new market.

Embraer

Embraer X has signed a letter of intention with Aviation Management Services – Serviços Aeronáuticos Ltda. (“Avantto”) announcing, “A partnership aimed at developing the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem in Latin America. This includes an order for 100 of Eve’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, as well as a collaboration to develop a new eVTOL operation in Brazil and across Latin America. Deliveries are expected to start in 2026.”

Eve has an additional order for 100 aircraft from Bristow Group Inc. (NYSE: VTOL).  In an interesting approach, Helipass has announced a partnership with Embraer X, “To fly Eve’s electric aircraft for a total of 50,000 flight hours per year. This could lead to an optional increase of 100,000 annual flight hours across Helipass’ network.”

Hyundai

Hyundai Motor is pulling four major companies together to Accelerate Urban Air Mobility.  Test flights will take place in Partnership with Incheon International Airport Corp., Hyundai Engineering & Construction, and KT Corp.

Hyundai is concentrating not just on their aerial vehicle, but on the stationary and mobile infrastructure to support them.  Hyundai seems to have an all-inclusive view of a utopian future.  This is being down to “align with the Korean UAM Roadmap,” a set of increasing range and automation objectives for urban air travel.  One goal, traveling one kilometer (0.62 miles) would cost only 1,300 wan ($1.09), not bad for short-distance air travel.

Joby

Joby is valued at well over $8 billion at this time, and has partnered with the U. S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program to further develop urban air mobility.  Joby, NASA, and Agility Prime are testing various aspects of eVTOL operation and capabilities.  Interestingly, there are no public announcements of sales of Joby eVTOLs.

Lilium

Lilium announced that it has completed its business combination with Qell Acquisition Corp. (“Qell”), a publicly listed special purpose acquisition company (Nasdaq: QELL).  This Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) will provide  Lilium with  approximately $584 million of gross proceeds, “prior to transaction expenses.”

Daniel Wiegand, Co-Founder and CEO of Lilium said, “In 2015 with the clear vision that the decarbonization of aviation is inevitable, we set out to build a team and product that would radically transform the way the world moves. Six years and five generations of technology demonstrator aircraft later, we’re closer than ever to this goal. Today’s milestone will bring us even closer to launching our service in 2024 and making sustainable, high-speed regional air travel a reality to communities around the world.”

New Atlas reports, “Lilium has become the latest eVTOL manufacturer to announce a significant provisional aircraft sale – this time, a 220-unit, billion-dollar deal with Azul in Brazil, which values the electric seven-seat Lilium Jets at around US$4 million apiece.”  Azul , Brazil’s third largest airline, serves smaller airports and many otherwise underserved areas, fitting Lilium’s business model quite well.

Vertical Aerospace

Vertical, a British enterprise, is developing the VA-X-4, “A zero-carbon aircraft that can carry four passengers and a pilot, and fly at speeds up to 200 mph over a range of over 100 miles.”  They seem to be pulling in a great many orders, with American Airlines pre-ordering up to 250 aircraft and Marubeni, an investment and trading company in Japan ordering another 200.  According to Yahoo News, “American plans to make a $25 million investment in Vertical through a private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction.”

Total orders may be as high as 1,350 with a potential value of approximately $5.4 billion.  This is a surprising amount of money coming from unique sources into sky taxis.

Volocopter

ADAC Luftrettung. A German aeromedical company, has reserved two of Volocopter’s VoloCity aircraft to prepare for operational testing of multicopters in future medical response services.  In a joint venture with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Volocopter managed an even larger sale of 150 aircraft.  With further partnerships with Daimler, Black Rock and Intel Capital, Volocopter expects to bring eVTOL aircraft to China in “the next three to five years.”  Florian Reuter, Volocopter’s CEO sees China as the biggest single market opportunity for the urban air mobility industry.

Not resting on its laurels, Volocopter is introducing a new, more aerodynamic commuter craft to market.  This looks to be a faster, longer-range version of what has already been accomplished.

Disrupting in Style

Disruptive technologies are said to go through a quiescent state, during which critics often deride the idea of their existence, then suddenly bloom.  Money talks, though, and big money seems to be lifting eVTOLs and sky taxis into an ever more-promising future.

{ 0 comments }

Craft Aero’s 16 Motors and Diamond Wings

Craft Aero, yet another newcomer in the electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) market, brings a novel 16 motor, diamond wing design to regional aviation.

Laurie Foti writing for Tech Crunch, thinks, “Air taxis may still be pie in the sky,” but acknowledges Craft Aerospace for aiming to move the air travel industry forward, “with a totally new vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that it believes could make city-to-city hops simpler, faster, cheaper and greener.”

Craft Aerospace’s downward deflecting wing flaps and distributed electric propulsion will enable eVTOL flight

She credits Craft for its “new” method of deflecting airflow downward to gain vertical takeoffs, something qualified by company co-founder James Dorris.  He notes that, “Our tech is a combination of both existing and novel tech.  The box wing has been built and flown; the high flap aircraft has been built and flown. They’ve never been synthesized like this in a VTOL aircraft.”

Claiming to cut regional flight times in half, Dorris explains the time savings possible.  “Anyone that’s ever had to take a flight that lasts under an hour knows that three times longer is spent in security lines, gate walks and, of course, getting to and from these necessarily distant major airports.

“’We’re not talking about flying wealthy people to the mall — there are major inefficiencies in major corridors.  The key to shortening that delay is picking people up in cities and dropping them off in cities. So for these short hops, we need to combine the advantages of fixed-wing aircraft and VTOL.’”

Small space required for multiple Craft airplanes would allow one to “Skip the Airport,” according to the firm

The overall design and intent of the high-lift machine seems to call out for more than just urban hops, though.  Craft’s web site explains, “Not another flying car.  Our range covers 65% of domestic air routes.”  But Craft does not chart out trips between major airports.  Their routes cover things like Santa Monica to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  The 381 air miles between the two cities are a 45-minute trip by jet, but undoable because Santa Monica airport’s 3,500-foot runway would not be usable by regular airliners.  Even a small airliner such as an Embraer 170 requires far more runway for landings and takeoffs.

But flying from a parking garage or the pier in Santa Monica would eliminate the 26-mile drive from there to the Burbank airport – a time-eating struggle on a good day.  Being able to lift off by the beach and fly directly to Fisherman’s Wharf eliminates airport drives or expensive cab rides.

These are very much the economics of any prospective eVTOL operation, and don’t count the saving graces of not going through the stress of TSA inspections and mile-long hikes to a boarding gate.  With only nine passengers, boarding is quick.  The flight may be slower than the bigger jets, but avoids the many hassles with which conventional flights are fraught.

Landing on Fisherman’s Wharf gets on San Francisco hours ahead of the cab ride from SFO

Craft has flown its design in large-scale model form, and is still engineering the number of motors (16 shown on renderings so far).  This is not uncommon.  Early images of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell showed regular changes in numbers and placement of that airplane’s motors.  Craft will incorporate a hybrid system with a fuel-powered generator, enabling flights up to 1,000 miles at 35,000 feet and 345 mph.  The thrust-directing flaps and need for pressurization will be design challenges for the team.

A recent entry in the market, Craft has personnel from Virgin Hyperloop, car company Karma, Space X, MIT, and has backing from the U. S. Air Force.  Cofounder James Dorris came from the Nevada Hyperloop project and cofounder Axel Radermacher worked Karma Automotive’s powertrain – as well as other electric vehicles.

The team has a good many accomplished engineers and an apparent wealth of bright ideas.  How soon these come to fruition and actual flight testing remains to be seen, but large-scale hops with full flap operation could begin in a few months.  An interesting design, Craft’s machine would make for an interesting flight experience.

{ 0 comments }

EmbraerX and Pyka Team Up

Accelerating Innovation

Embraer, a major Brazilian airframe developer, and Pyka, an Oakland, California-based autonomous agricultural aircraft builder, are teaming up.  They hope, “To accelerate the future of autonomous aerial agriculture operations.”  Beyond that, Pyka is expanding into regional air transport which could open 5,000 U. S. airports to usually unserved areas.

Pyka P3 could use lessons learned from Pelican to make a regional airliner and cargo plane

Pyka has flown autonomous agricultural aircraft in New Zealand for over two years, demonstrating high efficiency and economy in aerial application, or crop dusting (or spraying) as it’s historically called.  Apparently, the island nation’s Part 101 and 102 civil aviation licensing requirements are receptive to such flight.  According to Dan Grossman, Pyka’s new President (and formerly of Zipcar, Ford and Maven), Pelican made more than 3,000 flights.

Airframer.com reports, “Grossman joins a team of former Joby Aviation, Google, Wisk, Makani and Saildrone engineers and leaders. ‘Electric and hydrogen propulsion technologies are playing an increasingly important role in the future of human mobility,’ he says. ‘Pyka’s benchmark-setting electric propulsion systems, safety critical control software, advanced avionics, and custom composite airframes result from years of work in agriculture with our Pelican aircraft, and I’m excited to have joined this talented team to bring the results to human passenger aviation.’”

Embraer recently unveiled an electric version of their EMB 203 agricultural aircraft. An expansion into the autonomous flight of the Pyka Pelican would be part of Embraer’s “agile experimentation processes.”  These experiments would enhance Embraer X’s programs to develop disruptive technologies and accelerate them into commercial service in the “precision agriculture sector.”

Daniel Moczydlower , head of EmbraerX.” Explains the new relationship.  “EmbraerX is a market accelerator committed to developing solutions that can transform the world and inspire our partners by approaching unprecedented ideas with creativity and grit.  Pyka’s innovation and technology capacity is aligned with our strategy to accelerate the creation of innovative business models through partnerships that have the potential for exponential growth.”

Autonomous delivery would reduce the number of fatalities from aerial application.  As part of aviation, such work is related to another often owner-operated job – commercial pilot.  That comes in third on the list of the country’s most dangerous jobs, with 70 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

Most pilot fatalities come from general aviation; bush pilots, air-taxi pilots – and crop-dusters die at a far higher rate than airline pilots.  Autonomous application would reduce the number of fatalities, even though exposure to hazardous fertilizers and other chemicals would still be present.

The Pyka P3

Pyka is expanding into another area, that of regional airliners.  Their P3 is a four-motor, nine passenger and two pilot craft that can take off in 850 feet with a full load.  (It can also carry up to 330 cubic feet of cargo.)  Its 55 knot landing speed would also enable it to land in a small enough space to use over 5,000 small airports dotting the country.  Passengers would not need to take long car trips to reach bigger airports further away.

The P3 has some competitive features and benefits from increasing electronics capabilities.  Direct costs of $95 per hour are four times lower than those for a conventional nine-passenger airplane, according to company estimates.  Trips at close to 180 mph (155 nm/hr.) would cover 200 nautical mile (230 statute mile) trips in a little over an hour, four times faster than the average car trip for the same distance.  Range includes an Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) reserve on the 242 kilowatt-hour batteries.

Pyka’s patent pending motor system includes unique push-pull motors, propellers

In a response to the increasing pilot demand, Pyka’s “fly-by-wire” capabilities could reduce pilot workload, ideal assistance for “low-time regional pilots.”  Pyka claims their four-axis (roll, pitch,  yaw, airspeed) control will actively prevent stalls and spins.  This simplification of operations and elimination of the risk of control loss amounts to, according to the makers, “a revolution in single pilot safety.”  Coupled with zero emissions from its battery power, the airplane should provide safe, quiet transportation without the taint of “flight shaming.”  We can hope that it lives up to Pyka’s ideals for, “The safest commuter aircraft ever built.”

Pyka’s P3 is adaptable for passenger and cargo use

A patent-pending pusher-puller propulsion system gives “variable-pitch like performance with inexpensive, easy to maintain fixed pitch propellers,” according to Pyka. During cruise, only the rear propellers are used, resulting in a 10-percent increase in efficiency over a conventional design.  The “next-generation” Pyka Flight Engine “incorporates the same levels of redundancy and reliability found in commercial airliners.”

 Composite construction, advanced electronics and a simplified push-pull propeller combination will make the P3 of great interest. To ensure that it lives up to Pyka’s ambitions, they are testing a sub-scale model using the same software and sensor suite they use on their full-scale craft.

Pyka sub-scale P3 model is controlled by same flight sensors and controls as their full-scale craft

Pyka’s approach and demonstrated capabilities on their agricultural airplane should translate well in regional service.

{ 0 comments }

Graphene, applied in a sodium-ion battery may herald inexpensive alternatives to lithium-ion cells.  Scientists are exploring ways of making batteries not only more energy-dense, but also less costly.  Sodium, a primary ingredient in table salt, is one possibility.  It’s also abundant without too much effort required to find it. On the other hand, easily-obtainable lithium may become in short supply at a time when the world is clawing its way into the earth searching for more.

Sodium is the sixth most abundant element on earth, making up about 2.6 percent of the planet.   It’s never found free in nature, but always as part of something like the salt (NaCl) one can see crusting over from evaporating bay water near Moffett Field, California, or in the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Janus sodium-ion battery has many unique elements, but importantly, graphene as part of the anode

New Atlas reports, “These sodium-ion batteries would function much like today’s lithium-ion batteries, generating power by shuttling ions between a pair of electrodes in a liquid electrolyte, but as it stands their performance isn’t quite up to scratch.”  Chalmers University of Technology, where the research took place, concurs.  “At the current level of performance, sodium-ion batteries cannot compete with lithium-ion cells. One limiting factor is the graphite, which is composed of stacked layers of graphene, and used as the anode in today’s lithium-ion batteries.”

Graphene with Spacers

Remember that graphene is merely a single atomic layer of graphite, discovered by Russians who became Nobel Prize winners for their work.  They peeled those single layers from pencil lead with the equivalent of Scotch tape.  Graphite, then, is stacked layers of graphene.

 

Because sodium ions are larger than lithium ions, they don’t store well within the graphite.  This limits such sodium-graphite battery’s storage capacity to about 35 milliamp-hours per gram, about a tenth of that for lithium-ion cells.

Researcher Jinhua Sun at the Department of Industrial and Materials Science at Chalmers explains, “We have added a molecule spacer on one side of the graphene layer. When the layers are stacked together, the molecule creates larger space between graphene sheets and provides an interaction point, which leads to a significantly higher capacity.”  The “spacer” apparently adds just enough room for the sodium ions to squeeze in and intercalate (insert themselves into) with the graphite.

This two-sided solution accounts for the school’s name for the project – Janus.  Janus was a Roman god with two faces – one of which might face the past and the other the future.  Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, and the god of doors which might lead to discoveries.

This nano-sized opening boosts the sodium-graphite cell’s energy level to 322 milliamp-hours per gram, near the energy density of average lithium-ion batteries.

The Several-Years-Out Sadness

Study author Professor Aleksandar Matic throws some hope our. “The research is still at an early stage, but the results are very promising. This shows that it’s possible to design graphene layers in an ordered structure that suits sodium-ions, making it comparable to graphite.”

James Quinn, CEO of Faradion thinks sodium batteries can answer questions of national security inherent in lithium cell. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/sodium-ion-battery-manufacturing-faradion/  (more on this soon.)

The research, published in the journal Science Advances was co-authored by Jinhua Sun, Matthew SaddPhilip Edenborg, Henrik Grönbeck, Peter H. Thiesen, Zhenyuan Xiavanesa Quintano, Ren QiuAleksandar Matic  Vincenzo Palermo.

The paper’s abstract summarizes their work:

Sodium, in contrast to other metals, cannot intercalate in graphite, hindering the use of this cheap, abundant element in rechargeable batteries. Here, we report a nanometric graphite-like anode for Na+storage, formed by stacked graphene sheets functionalized only on one side, termed Janus graphene. The asymmetric functionalization allows reversible intercalation of Na+, as monitored by operando Raman spectroelectrochemistry and visualized by imaging ellipsometry. Our Janus graphene has uniform pore size, controllable functionalization density, and few edges; it can store Na+ differently from graphite and stacked graphene. Density functional theory calculations demonstrate that Na+ preferably rests close to -NH2 group forming synergic ionic bonds to graphene, making the interaction process energetically favorable. The estimated sodium storage up to C6.9Na is comparable to graphite for standard lithium ion batteries. Given such encouraging Na+ reversible intercalation behavior, our approach provides a way to design carbon-based materials for sodium ion batteries.

A Potential Pollyanish Upside to This

If things like sodium-ion batteries and other energy storage devices can use abundant, energy dense materials in applications where weight is not a concern, that will free lithium supplies for necessarily light duties.  This could be a win-win overall for future developments.

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to Howard Handelman for doing better proofreading than your editor manages.  He pointed out that water evaporates – salt does not.  The text has been changed to suit.)

{ 0 comments }

Antares Upgrades to RED.3 Batteries

An airplane that’s a seasoned veteran gets even better with the new SAFT RED.3 batteries.   At the Grenchen, Switzerland Electrifly-in Lange Antares spread their wings over 21 meters of display space each.  Klaus Ohlmann flew the latest E model from the manufacturer and a hybrid e-Rop from AdvanTec GmbH was on static display.  These airplanes are evolutions of the original design, which goes back to 2003.  SAFT’s new batteries will make the plane even better.

Richard Van Grunsven, founder of Van’s Aircraft, granted your editor an interview in 2010 and demonstrated the motor’s operation on his Antares.  The same 42 kilowatt (56.3 horsepower) motor is retained in the current version, but batteries have become better in the last 11 years.

Richard Van Grunsven with is Lange Antares in 2010 – incidentally the first electric airplane in Oregon

As your editor reported then “Two carbon-fiber propeller blades attach to beautifully machined fittings on the rotating cylinder, and provide enough thrust to give the 460 kilogram (1,014 pound) ship a 4.4 meter per second (866 feet per minute) rate of climb at its 66o kilogram (1,455 pound) maximum loaded weight.  SAFT batteries tucked in the wing roots store enough energy for about 3,000 meters (9,850 feet) of total climb, slightly over 11 minutes at full power.”

RED.3 Batteries

Things have changed since then.  SAFT announced their new RED.3 (Reliable Electric Design) batteries could provide up to 5,600 meters (18,372 feet) of total climb, a significant improvement over the last decade.  This includes changes to the battery chemistry.  The new battery system, which follows the original arrangement, with batteries in long strings along the span of the wings, comes in two versions – “S” for Standard and “L” for Large.  Either version includes over 1,000 2170 (21 millimeters diameter by 70 millimeters long) cells, a popular size in electric cars.

Benchmark for innovation in Antares aircraft is the increase in gravimetric energy density (see graphic) – it describes how much energy per weight can be stored in a battery. The higher the value, the more climbing height and / or range is possible with the same battery mass and dimensions installed in Antares aircraft. From this it can be deduced that an Antares with modern RED battery systems will be able to rise higher and higher in the future. Today, the L version of Antares.RED.3 already reaches 5,600m – if you follow the development trend, heights of up to 6,700m can be achieved in 2030. (Lange Aviation caption)

It’s a bit confusing, because one wonders what part improved chemistry plays, and what part an increased number of cells.  Luckily, Lange shows a clear number for the “S” and “L” versions.  The standard and large packs give the same rate of climb. 4.4 meters per second or 866 feet per minute.  That’s a function of the motor, which retains the specifications of the one on Van Grunsven’s Antares.  Considering that there are under 100 of these unique craft in service after almost two decades, there is little reason to improve on a low-demand, well-proven motor.

RED3’s chemistry does make a difference, enabling 4,200 meters or 13,800 feet of climb from a standing start.  This is considerably better than Van Grunsven’s Antares at 3,000 meters or 9,850 feet a decade ago.  Still, that’s only a 40-percent improvement over that time, a four-percent increment per year.  Adding the Large pack’s number of batteries enables the higher climb, although some credit may be shared with the additional 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) of span.

Antares ghost view shows orientation of batteries near leading edge of wings

The extra span may help account for the Large pack’s cruising range – 380 kilometers or 235 miles.  That would allow for frequent explorations of thermals and cloud streets.  Beyond just climbing to an altitude safe for looking for lift, Antares, because of its now 58:1 glide ratio, will probably do even better than Van Grunsven managed during his “only really good flight” of 2010.  “‘The time from starting takeoff roll to finishing engine retraction (which takes ~12 seconds) was 2:14, and shutdown was at 1,200 ft AGL.  The peak climb rate is in excess of 800fpm. It was a windy day (>20 knots at altitude) so the Cub would have had a tough time!’  (Your editor had compared the flight to that of a Piper Cub undertaking the same route.) ‘Note I only spent 15-percent of the time circling; mostly I flew straight following energy lines.’”

At Today’s Launch Prices, the Plane Might Pay for Itself

When viewing Van Grunsven’s Antares, your editor used the numbers provided by Lange.  “Batteries, because of the limited necessity for running the motor, should last an equally impressive time.  Lange predicts 3,000 cycles for the batteries before their energy storage capabilities reach 80-percent of original capacity, providing over 4 million meters of climb, or 13,615,000 feet, before needing replacement.  That would be over 4,500 launches to 3,000 feet, or about $135,000 in tow fees at $30 per tow.”  (That was 10 years ago.  Current prices for the Willamette Valley Soaring Club are $64.00 for a tow to 3,000 feet – $22 hookup + $1.40 per 100 feet.)

Making Batteries Safer

SAFT and Antares have a few more tricks up their leading edge.   Since the batteries are not readily accessible when the airplane is assembled and in flight, one cannot risk thermal runaway or the nightmare scenario that would follow.  Secured in the wing as they are, the batteries must be utterly safe.  A CAN (Connected Area Network) bus links all the electronic components on the airplane and monitors for proper operation and potential hazards.  The system balances the cells and makes “highly accurate measurement of single-cell temperature (available as an option)”  Your editor thinks it would be highly desirable.  Lange notes, “The entire propulsion system and the third-generation battery thus fully meet the requirements for personal safety.”

A high-end machine, Antares seems like a dream machine for those who can manage its acquisition and mastery.  Its new batteries make it even better.

{ 0 comments }

Eviation’s Alice and MagniX’s motors got a visit from the Governor of Washington State and the Mayor of Arlington, where the nine-seat airliner is being prepared for its first flight.  Electric aircraft, so far, don’t command that big a portion of the daily press, so it’s heartening to see TV cameras and news reporters turn out.

A photo op in Eviation’s Arlington, Washington hangar documents visit by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert

Eviation shared its take on Facebook.  “We enjoyed hosting @GovInslee and @barbtolbert today for an intimate look as Alice prepares for first flight later this year. They saw first-hand how our growing teams are working to make #electricaviation a reality.”

Governor Jay Inslee was already aware of the work motor company MagniX was doing when he acknowledged the May 28, 2020 flight of a Cessna Grand Caravan.

 “The world’s largest all-electric aircraft took flight yesterday. And it was right here in Moses Lake, WA. Congratulations to @MagniX and all those involved.”  This referenced the Cessna Grand Caravan powered by a Magnix Magni500 motor.

In somewhat of a media turnabout, the Governor interviewed Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX and chairman of Eviation’s board of directors.

Commenting further on his airport outing, Governor Inslee posted on Facebook.  “Big day for the clean energy revolution being led by Washington. At the Eviation Aircraft Company in Arlington I toured the production facility for what will soon be the world’s first commercial all electric airplane, a nine seater. In Maltby I toured the Group 14 company which has created a world changing silicon anode battery technology that could increase capacity by 50% in our cars. Clean in the air, clean on the ground.”

What the Governor and Mayor Saw

Most impressively, they gazed upon a sleek aerodynamic shape waiting for its motors.  Janice Podsada of the local Herald Business Journal, reported, “It’s crunch time for Omer Bar-Yohay, CEO and co-founder of Eviation Aircraft, which is developing an all-electric airplane.”  As any home-built airplane maker knows, being 90-percent done means there’s 90 percent left to do”  The “crunch” in this case is mating the motors and batteries to the airframe, connecting and testing miles of wires, and performing ground-based reliability tests on every component.

Ms. Podsada reports, “’Every system and subsystem of the aircraft from structures to electronic performance and the batteries, the motor — all are being tested separately and then they’re tested together for functionality,’ said Bar-Yohay, who studied physics at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

90 percent done, 90 percent to go.  Alice being fitted for what will be a luxury interior

Alice is primarily composite construction weighing a total of 16,500 pounds – 8.200 pounds of which accounted for by two battery packs.  Perhaps because of this, Alice was described by Bar-Yohay as a battery with an airplane painted on it.  And, as engineers will explain, the airplane lands weighing as much as it does when taking off.  Unlike petrol burners, electric airplanes don’t lose the weight of fuel consumed on the journey.  That’s one disadvantage – one perhaps overcome by clever design on aircraft like Alice.

Two crew members and nine passengers will have a nice trip in the 57-foot fuselage, carried aloft on 63-foot span wings, aerodynamically clean without the two wing-tip motors of the original configuration.  The 500-mile cruising range will be covered quickly by the plane’s 287 mph speed.

The Herald explains, “Eviation occupies three hangars at the Arlington Municipal Airport. MagniX is housed in a 40,000 square-foot building in south Everett near Paine Field.”  Only 15.8 driving miles separate the two parties, ensuring ease of communication and on-time delivery of components.

Making Schedules

Getting in the air by the end of the year indicates a little pressure being applied to both manufacturers.  DHL Express has expressed a desire for 12 Alices, set up to carry 2,600 pounds of cargo.  Cape Air, a regional airline has a purchase option for an undisclosed number of aircraft.

Both carriers will appreciate the operating savings possible with electric aircraft.  Bar-Yohay told the Herald, “We estimate it will cost about $250 to $350 per flight hour to operate. A turboprop with similar performance costs between $1,200 and $2,000 per flight hour.”

Pat Anderson of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) told the Herald, “[Electric flight is] greener. It promises lower emissions and lower noise emissions.  I just think we have to figure out the battery weight issue, and I think that will simply take some time.”

Getting Charged

Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys, California is taking energy saving and clean aviation fuels seriously, switching to things like LED lamps and encouraging the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).

Eviation announced a partnership with Clay Lacy Aviation to provide electric charging as part of its Fixed Based Operator (FBO) network of services. This partnership, “Will allow for the charging of Alice, its all-electric aircraft, at all Clay Lacy Aviation FBOs in preparation for the plane’s expected entry into service in 2024.”

Rendering of Alice in front of Clay Lacy’s FBO hangar

“In 2020, the company developed a comprehensive sustainability strategy to reduce its carbon footprint and the environmental impact of Clay Lacy Aviation facilities and its clients. Adding charging services for the nine-passenger, two-crew member, emission-free Alice is another step toward the two companies’ shared vision for a sustainable aviation industry.”

{ 0 comments }

Would an Electric LSA Kit Appeal to You?

Is there a need and desire for an electric light sport aircraft (LSA) kit that is inexpensive to own, operate, and maintain?  Electric flight already offers that possibility, and if kits were available to further lower costs, we could see a new way to achieve low-cost flight.  The LSA designation qualifies a builder to take advantage of LSA’s lighter constraints.

Shown only as an example of a potential kit LSA, Locus was a 2015 concept

A good friend who happens to have designed an electric Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) kit a few years ago let the project lapse because of the need to tend to other business interests.  He wants to know if there’s a market for a new, improved version of his original concept – an electric LSA that would fly for considerably less in operating costs than an internal-combustion model, and that would provide reliable, safe sport flying.  He provided the following survey to the Experimental Aircraft Association, which created the link at the end of this entry.  His comments follow.

Sonex Xenos was converted to eXenos by Gabriel DeVault. Kit aircraft could be a way for enthusiasts to access electric aviation

“This survey is being conducted to assess interest in an Electric Light Sport Aircraft that will be commercially available initially as a home-build kit.

“The aircraft is composed of a lightweight carbon composite material and incorporates many of the latest aerospace technology innovations to make electric flight highly cost-efficient. The Electric Light Sport Aircraft will have up to 2.5-hour endurance, an approximate 200-nautical mile range, and a useful load that allows for two adults on-board while complying with all FAA Light Sport Aircraft Rules. The Aircraft will have a designed takeoff run of 800′ and a landing run of 600’ at sea level, with economy cruise speed of 75 KIAS. The projected direct operating costs will be ~80% less than a typical gasoline powered light sport aircraft and, if equipped with the factory available energy storage device, will cost approximately $11 per flight hour based on national average electricity rates, and will require minimal maintenance.

eGull “Quark” built by Martin Koxxy has been a big hit at Oregon fly-ins. Built from a kit, the design now has several owners who have flown electrically

“The Electric Light Sport Aircraft Kit will be available in several variations depending on the desires of the home-builder and could include enhanced safety options such as a Ballistic Recovery System and advanced designs for battery management and containment. Future feature-development contemplates integrated avionics for collision avoidance, flight envelope exceedance-protection, and other embedded intelligence to ensure safe flight and ‘take me home’ auto-land controls.

“The Electric Light Sport Aircraft Kits will be priced competitively with conventional gasoline powered kit aircraft.”

Electric Light Sport Aircraft Survey

Click on this link to take you to the survey.  The combined wants, needs and collective intelligence of those who seek the future can make this a significant step in the path to green aviation.

{ 0 comments }

First Flight of Rolls-Royce’s ACCEL Project

Rolls-Royce has made a first test flight of its ACCEL Program’s “Spirit of Innovation,” their 400 kilowatt (500+ horsepower) electric record-seeking craft.  Powered by a stack of three YASA (Yokeless And Segmented Armature) motors, the Spirit flows from Jon Sharp’s NXT design, usually powered by a 540-cubic-inch internal-combustion engine.  The video includes a short nod to Rolls-Royce’s involvement in aviation that leads to the current project.

Rolls announced the successful first flight with an important accomplishment and a hopeful prediction.  “We are pleased to announce the completion of the first flight of our all-electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft. At 14:56 (BST) the plane took to the skies propelled by its powerful 400kW electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. This is another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt and another milestone on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarburization.”

The flight, made on the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain day, acknowledged as the turning point in that great aerial conflict.  It was a reminder that Rolls-Royce powered the Spitfires and Hurricanes that turned back the German assault.  Sent aloft from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site, managed by QinetiQ, the Spirit flew for approximately 15 minutes.

An Ironic Set of Acquisitions

A note from YASA’s CEO explains the company’s recent acquisition by Mercedes-Benz.  “Operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, with our own brand, team and facilities, YASA will help to develop pioneering best-in-class electric drive innovations to give Mercedes-Benz exceptional performance in a new electric era.”  This means that a British company, R-R, will fly an American-designed aircraft with a German-owned, Oxford-engineered set of motors.

“The YASA team, all 250 of us, will continue to operate from our HQ and production facility in Oxford, UK and our innovation facility in Welshpool, Wales.”

Spirit of Innovation uses three YASA motors stacked for high-power, high-speed performance

Rolls-Royce’s ownership by BMW and YASA’s by Mercedes further illustrates the now-international nature of once-chauvinistic brands.  No companies seem able to fund the development of new autos or aircraft, among other things.  Look at the opening credits on any recent movie, for instance.  The half-billion dollars required to make the initial Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, would have bankrupted many individual firms.  That’s why we see four or more production firms involved in anything bigger than an low-budget “indie” film. Now think of the enormous sums required to produce the next Boeing or Airbus product.

Future Projections

Probable tests for Spirit will include an attack on the electric airplane speed record, which will put NXT in the category of previous records set by the Supermarine S6.b, the Hawker Hurricane and the Spitfire.  Thousands of the latter two were built and both were powered by R-R Merlin and Griffon engines.  Two Merlins propelled each DeHavilland Mosquito, and four graced the wings of each Lancaster bomber.  Rolls-Royce was a large factor in the allied victory.

Two Rolls-Royce motors will grace the wings of this Tecnam product – scheduled for regular service by 2026

Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, said. “The first flight of the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is a great achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce. We are focused on producing the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonize transport across air, land and sea, and capture the economic opportunity of the transition to net zero. This is not only about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this program has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng explained the British government’s interest in a small, electric race plane.  “By backing projects like this one, the Government is helping to drive forward the boundary pushing technologies that will leverage investment and unlock the cleaner, greener aircraft required to end our contribution to climate change.

“The ACCEL program, short for ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ includes key partners YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight.”

With COP26 (Congress of Parties) slated for November 1 in Glasgow, Scotland, Roll-Royce will be in a good place to extoll the virtues of electric flight and its manifest benefits to the environment.  Rolls will have a good number of products pointing the way in the most existential battle since Word War Two.

{ 0 comments }

A Pair of Dutch Electric Dragonfly’s

Dragonfly is a great name for the tandem-wing, two-seat aircraft, with the forward wing mounted low and the rear wing higher and behind the cockpit.  Students at InHolland University of Applied Sciences now have two of these anisoptera-like craft they are converting to electric power.  Considering there are only two such airplanes registered in The Netherlands, 100 percent of all Dragonflies in the country will soon be electric.  Over 500 have been completed worldwide in the last four decades.

According to the school, “The airframe design is visually similar to the RAF’s Quickie 2, which was developed independently, but the Dragonfly has larger airfoils and was designed for a smaller engine, resulting in a slower but more docile handling aircraft. Originally 60 hp (45 kW) Volkswagen air-cooled and 85 hp (63 kW) Jabiru 2200 four-stroke powerplants were used with the Dragonfly. With a redesign to a battery-electric variant [Project DragonFly] Inholland and partners want to demonstrate the viability of electrifying existing small aircraft for… general aviation.”  The team has developed two powertrain strategies apparently, visible as a single motor in one version, and a speed-reduced pair of motors in the other.  Motors are supplied by Saluqui.

Combining virtual and real elements, the Delft-based Dragonfly shows single motor, original raw finish.  Note compact arrangement of motor, batteries and associated systems

Oversimplifying a bit, project manager Mark Ommert summarizes the planned strategy.  “The advantage of electric motors is that they are much lighter. In this case, you replace a 100-kilogram motor with one of 15 kilograms.  Then you have the weight of an entire passenger left to spend on your energy source.”  Seemingly simple, this requires some rethinking of weights and balances for the craft, and the need for compact power sources.

Envisioning the New Airplane

To help visualize how those power sources could fit in their re-imagined dragonfly’s, the team used an impressive array of tools to help “see” accurately the dimensions of the aircraft, and then how to distribute the elements of the power train.

The challenge of dealing with complex 40 year old hardcopy drawings was solved by 3D metrology experts from TetraVision, who used advanced 3D scanning technology. This resulted in a six meter by six meter by two meter 3D model of the Viking Dragonfly airplane with 0.1 millimeter accuracy.  This “digital twin” allows for comparison with the actual machine.

TetraVision system scans allowed accurate metrology of entire airplane, to 0.1 mm

Aeronautical Engineering student Kiril Medarov developed a mixed reality application to perform quality checks during manufacturing processes. Able to detect differences between a virtual Dragonfly and the real article allows potential detection of manufacturing alterations or defects.

To enable realistic flight simulation to train potential pilots, Researcher Marco Withag developed a program that will allow them to, “Get used to the flight behavior and onboard systems, before going to take-off in the real Dragonfly.  The flight simulation model can be flown in a virtual reality environment, combined with a motion platform that offers three degrees of freedom. This unique combination offers the pilot the opportunity to see and feel how the aircraft behaves under various pay-load configurations and with electrical powertrains.”

Students taking advantage of full range of computer assistance in project

Flight behavior of the Dragonfly is modeled using PlaneMaker, a development tool provided by Laminar Research, which backs the X-Plane flight simulator series.  X-Plane uses the blade element theory to calculate the forces on the aircraft during flight, according to the Delft team.

Blending It All Together

Modeled and animated in Blender, the free and open-source 3D creation tool can perform, “Modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking. The model is still under construction but will be available for the public when it is finished, according to the team.

With what appear to be hundreds of students having seen the project and its two exemplars, the program has expanded to include the original donor plane in Delft and the second in Ypenburg, painted in what looks like a homage to Piet Mondrian, the Dutch painter. Two Dutch electric Dragonfly’s may appear at next year’s Paris Air Show.  Arnold Koetje Manager of the Applied Sciences Labs, Inholland in Delft shares that ambition.   “That will be the concept, although we want to be a long way by then.  We also want the aircraft to actually fly by 2023.  Koetje hopes that this can also be an example for the tens of thousands of “sport aircraft” worldwide.

Project goals include making a cleaner, quieter, smarter Dragonfly.  The lessons learned from these two builds and the tools created to make them possible can be applied to other such conversions of other light aircraft.  That’s a gift to all.

{ 0 comments }