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The reach of ‘More Electric Aircraft’ extended

5th June 2017
Lanna Deamer

A five year engineering research project is set to extend the application of electric technology to a wider range of aircraft.

This project will develop smaller and lighter high capacity electrical power generation systems, enabling more on-board technology to run on electricity on a wider range of aircraft to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

Supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Safran Electrical and Power UK, Dr Xibo Yuan of the University of Bristol has just taken up the post of Senior Research Fellow in Advanced Aircraft Power Generation Systems.

Aircraft of the future are set to adopt more electrical systems to replace the hydraulic, pneumatic and mechanical technology that currently drive systems such as fuel handling, cabin pressurisation and actuation. However, to meet this need the electrical generation systems currently in use on aircraft are growing in weight and size, restricting the transition to greater electrification to larger aircraft. Dr Yuan’s research aims to increase the output of high density electric generators, designing and prototyping new on-board generators to meet the demands of the next generation of ‘More Electric Aircraft’ and ultimately ‘All Electric Aircraft’ with hybrid/electric propulsion.

The research will explore advanced electric machines and power converters, including the use of new power electronics devices that have only become available in recent years, such as wide bandgap semiconductors. While the relatively high costs of the new technologies have prohibited their use in other appliances, they are well suited to aircraft where they can offer large savings in energy usage, size and weight.

“Using new power electronics devices that can switch on and off very fast, really reduces energy loss,” explained Dr Yuan. “I’m exploring wide bandgap based converters that can enable high-frequency drives and operate at higher temperatures. Ultimately this will push the boundaries of power density and efficiency, allowing more and more of an aircraft to run on electric power to really reduce fuel burn and the emissions associated with it.

“Working with Safran is a really valuable collaboration, building on a 16 year relationship that offers the opportunity to take my research forward into real aerospace applications. I’m grateful to them and the Royal Academy of Engineering for supporting my Senior Research Fellowship.”

Professor Sir James McDonald FREng FRSE, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Committee, said: “There have been some great developments in running more transport systems on electricity, but engineering solutions are required to break through the current limits and enable the transition to go even further. This research work promises to identify novel power electronic and advanced machines configurations to accelerate electrical systems deployment on aircraft and help innovate new aerospace power technologies. The Royal Academy of Engineering is proud to support Dr Xibo Yuan in his Senior Research Fellowship.”

Dr Giovanni Raimondi, R&T Director at Safran Electrical & Power UK, said: “The More Electric Aircraft is already a reality, and has demonstrated its value in the large aircraft segment, bringing environmental, functional and commercial benefits. The challenge of electrical equipment size and weight reduction is fundamental to its wider application, and to paving the way to the hybrid electric and all electric aircraft of the future. The technologies developed through Dr Yuan’s exciting project will contribute to aligning the electrical power generation system, the heaviest electrical equipment on the majority of current aircraft, with the new objectives which will need to be met to assure the future of air travel.

“We look forward to supporting Dr Yuan in his Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowship project, which will deliver key technology for the future and, building on our long standing relationship with the University of Bristol, will foster cross-pollination between industry and academia, benefitting UK aerospace industry and engineering as a whole.”

Applications for the next round of Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships are now open.

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