On September 14, the Electric Aircraft Initiative welcomed over 50 leading experts from industry and academia on MIT campus to discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with electric aircraft propulsion. More specifically, the participants aimed to identify and prioritize the technological needs associated with bringing the vision of electrified aircraft propulsion systems to life.
Electrifying the powertrain
Electrification of aircraft propulsion systems may have the potential to disrupt the air transportation industry in the coming decades. In the recent past, several studies assessed the feasibility of electrified aircraft powertrains. They concluded that, with expected advances in technology, electrification of aircraft drivetrains is feasible. This novel technology would offer the unique opportunity to decouple future growth of aircraft emissions from expected traffic growth.
Depending on mission type, electric aircraft propulsion systems could be fully electric, hybrid-electric, or turbo-electric. Such systems further offer the potential to leverage new and unconventional airframe configurations and architectures, particularly through more integrated and distributed propulsion systems as well as boundary layer ingestion.
To achieve a step change in aircraft performance a number of challenges, very different from those for current aircraft, have to be overcome. These include, for example, thermal management in the electric power train, synergistic integration of turbomachinery with electric machinery, the dynamic behavior of electrified propulsor networks, and the safety of high energy and power density systems. During the workshop, the experts discussed the potential benefits envisioned, the technological gaps and the technical roadmaps to bring these visions to reality.
The workshop included keynotes from industry experts outlining the current state of R&D for electric aircraft as well as a panel discussion with expertise in the fields of electrified propulsion for small aircraft, electric machines, battery technology, power electronics, and turbo-electric propulsion concepts for large commercial aircraft. More than half of the time, the participants engaged in “Hackathon Sessions”, which gave participants the opportunity to develop technology pathways for key technical challenges in the field.
The workshop was co-organized by the MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative, the MIT Gas Turbine Lab, and the Logistics Management Institute.
The participants left MIT after a long day of engaging discussions with new ideas on how to tackle the challenges associate with electric aircraft propulsion. The findings will therefore inspire future work and guide research in the field.
The workshop agenda is available here.