The collaboration will see one of four gas turbine engines in an aircraft replaced by a 2MW electric motor, with a view to swapping a second engine for an electric motor once system maturity has been proved.

Airbus’s chief technology officer Paul Eremenko said the project is an important step in its goal to make electric flight “a reality in the foreseeable future”.

“We see hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology for the future of aviation,” he said.

Revolutionise flight

Airbus will be responsible for overall integration of the E-Fan X project. Rolls-Royce will deliver a turbo-shaft engine and power electronics, while Siemens will provide the inverter, the 2MW electric motors and their power electronic control units.

“The E-Fan X enables us to build on our wealth of electrical expertise to revolutionise flight and welcome in the third generation of aviation,” Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Paul Stein said.

“This is an exciting time for us as this technological advancement will result in Rolls-Royce creating the world’s most powerful flying generator.”

Sustainable aviation

The need to accelerate the transition to sustainable aviation is clear. If left unchecked, between 2016 and 2050, global aviation will generate an estimated 43 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to estimates. That amounts to more than 4% of the world’s entire remaining carbon budget.

With aviation fuel being the biggest cost for any airline, some of the big industry players have sought cheaper, more sustainable alternatives, namely biofuels. Virgin Atlantic is trialling a ‘game-changing’ alcohol-to-jet (AtJ) fuel, and last year Alaska Airlines operated the first commercial jet powered by forest biomass.

One of Europe’s largest airlines, EasyJet, recently announced plans to deliver electric-powered airplanes within the next decade.

George Ogleby

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