Flying electric is no longer a dream
Flying electric is no longer a dream
© Siemens Digital Industries

| Mentor, a Siemens business

Flying electric is no longer a dream

Siemens eAircraft develops electric propulsion systems across a variety of power classes to power a more sustainable flight future and new mobility concepts. Using the Siemens Digital Industries portfolio, Siemens eAircraft creates a digital twin of the individual components and the integrated system. With the help of the digital twin the team manages to access new design spaces and rapidly demonstrate technology – extending the boundaries of technology limitations.

Proven hybrid-electric propulsion systems from Siemens eAircraft pave the way for sustainable aviation and new mobility concepts 

At the 2017 Paris Air Show, Dr. Frank Anton, the physicist and pilot leading the development of hybrid-electric propulsion systems for aviation at Siemens eAircraft, stated that he would fly from Nuremberg to Paris on a hybrid-electric regional jet in his lifetime.

Two years, later, thanks to digital twins and fast-iterative innovation, the news is good. Siemens has made serious technical advancements in this area by successfully developing and testing several hybrid-electric drive systems. One system is advanced enough that it could provide the power-to-weight ratio and manage the voltage required to fly regional hybrid-electric airplanes.

This is good news for the planet as well. With the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicting that passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion by 2037, the global aviation community is under pressure to reduce the long-term negative impact of flying -- particularly CO2 and NOx emissions as well as noise pollution. 

“Using hybrid-electric propulsion and distributed propulsion, we will be able to reduce emissions, and reduce fuel burn, but also build aircraft with very low noise levels,” said Dr. Anton, Executive Vice President eAircraft at Siemens AG.

Equipped with hybrid-electric drive systems, the new airplane engines will generate power from non-fossil fuels or electricity instead of exclusively using fossil fuels. But developing this new technology for flight power didn’t happen overnight. 

For several years, various Siemens eAircraft teams based in Bavaria, Germany and Budapest, Hungary have worked with industrial and academic partners to develop electric and hybrid-electric systems. In the field of regional aircraft and even larger aircraft classes, one of the biggest challenges that the Siemens engineers faced was how to replace an already brilliant piece of technology: the airborne gas turbine. Over its 60-year development lifespan, it has reached remarkable power density ratios. But the teams were up to the challenge. They knew that their work would have an impact, helping aviation remain sustainable for the next 100 years.

One of the benefits of hybrid-electric drive systems is that they could be designed to be more efficient than traditional ones if the individual components were optimized for the various flight phases. For example, the gas turbines could be designed for stable travel performance while the batteries and electric drives could provide additional power for performance peaks like climbing. In addition, energy could be recovered while the plane was landing. In other words, there is lots of potential for improvement. 

Image1_SP2000D_01Plus1_komp.jpg © Siemens Digital Industries



Proven hybrid-electric propulsion systems from Siemens eAircraft pave the way for sustainable aviation and new mobility concepts

Fans of the Paris Air Show probably might remember the Extra 330LE plane towing a glider into the air in 2017. (If you missed 2017, catch the highlights here.) This test plane featured a Siemens 260 kW (SP260D) electric drive system with a record-breaking power density. But towing a glider up into the air is a different story than taking an ATR72 or even an A320 into the skies using hybrid-electric drive systems. 

“Up to now, you have been able to get about a kilowatt of power from a kilogram of electric machine,” explains Dr. Frank Anton. “For commercial aviation, you will need 10, 12 kilowatts, and, actually, 20 would be ideal.” 



Designing electric propulsion systems for flight with Simcenter

Image2_High power screenshot no scale.png
Image2_High power screenshot no scale.png © Siemens Digital Industries
Image2_High power screenshot no scale.png

Working from the SP260D’s record-breaking power density of 5 kilowatts per kilogram, the team in Germany knew they needed to boost this level even further when developing the 2-megawatt drive system (the SP2000D prototype)The end goal was to increase the power level by a factor of ten and to increase the power density by a factor of two while maintaining safety and designing for size and weight requirements. 

Normally going from scratch to the final prototype would take 3 or 4 years, but the Siemens eAircraft team managed to design and build the Siemens SP2000D prototype, aimed at regional aviation, in 1.5 years by combining Siemens experimental manufacturing capabilities with a highly accurate digital twin created using advanced engineering tools from the Simcenter™ simulation and testing portfolio. The entire development process was extremely fast thanks to these digital tools.

“The most important thing is that we simulate all the effects – everything at the same time in one Simcenter environment. This is the basic secret,” explains Dr. Anton.

The Simcenter digital twin covered advanced areas like electromagnetics, structural performance, thermal management and systems performance to name a few. Throughout all the Siemens eAircraft activities, the team continuously tested the prototype, feeding accurate data back into the digital twin to improve the quality of the final simulation. Today, the digital twin is highly calibrated, highly accurate and scalable. For example, one Simcenter digital twin designed for 10 megawatt superconductivity targeted at the higher power classes offers such a high level of fidelity that the team could go directly into prototype production and create a very innovative and high performing hybrid-electric propulsion system. 

“We are in the middle of this innovative process. We already have several aircraft in the air that are powered by Siemens propulsion systems. There are many companies taking this up and the development is there.” Adds Dr. Anton, “In the near future, we will be able to give this propulsion technology to the aviation world to make aviation sustainable for generations to come.” 

Of course, this innovative propulsion technology will still have to be systematically enhanced before air taxis and hybrid-electric regional jets reach the stage of product maturity. But if you ask anyone from the Siemens eAircraft team you will hear they all agree on one point: mobility and aviation will have a sustainable future with the help of electric and hybrid-electric drive systems.

Siemens expects to receive the test results from the development of its 2-megawatt drive system (the SP2000D prototype) in the summer of 2019. Dr. Anton and his team are confident that its power density will set new standards.

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