Major European hybrid electric propulsion research project launches as Nordic electric aviation initiative gets Finavia boost
Airbus E-Thrust hybrid electric aircraft concept
Wed 29 Jan 2020 – French aerospace research lab ONERA is to lead a consortium of 33 aviation industry and research stakeholders on a new European research project called IMOTHEP into hybrid electric propulsion for commercial aviation. The four-year initiative has received a €10.4 million ($11.5m) grant from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework programme. Meanwhile, Finnish airport operator Finavia is the latest to join the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation (NEA), an initiative to develop electric aviation in the region that is funded by Nordic Innovation, an organisation under the Nordic Council of Ministers. Finavia itself has been funding a fully electric aircraft since 2018, which had a successful test flight at Malmi Airport in Helsinki in the summer of that year. Following a first meeting held in Östersund, Sweden, in December, NEA network members are meeting in Helsinki this week for a series of workshops.
Finavia becomes the twelfth member of the NEA network, which includes airport operators Avinor and Swedavia, and airlines Air Greenland, Braathens Regional, Finnair, Iceland Air and SAS. The network has four focus areas for driving the growth of electric aircraft:
Standardising electric air transport infrastructure in the Nordic countries;
Developing business models for regional point-to-point connectivity between Nordic countries;
Developing aircraft technology for Nordic weather conditions; and
Creating a platform for European and global collaborations.
“We aim at highlighting the necessary aspects needed to provide a credible roadmap towards Nordic electric aviation,” commented Maria Fiskerud, NEA Project Manager.
Finavia Technical Director Henri Hansson believes electric aircraft will be flying on Finnish domestic routes by the end of the decade.
“Electric-powered aircraft will likely be a vital part of tackling the environmental challenges of the aviation industry,” he said. “If a clean method, such as wind or solar power, is used to produce the necessary electricity, the electric aircraft of the future could fly completely emission-free. Electric aircraft will be suited especially for short routes.”
Commenting on joining the NEA network, he said: “As an airport operator, we want to find out what kind of development electric flying will require from our airports.”
The European project IMOTHEP (Investigation and Maturation of Technologies for Hybrid Electric Propulsion) will investigate electric technologies for hybrid electric aircraft as well as advanced aircraft configuration design and innovative propulsion architectures.
“Analysing potential technologies and technical issues at the relevant scale is fundamental for hybrid electric propulsion and addressing the challenge of climate change requires exploring the technology for commercial aircraft. This is the central focus of IMOTHEP,” said the consortium in a statement.
“The ultimate goal of the project is to achieve a key step in assessing the potential of hybrid electric propulsion for reducing the emissions of commercial aviation and eventually to build the technology roadmap for its development.”
The consortium includes airframe and engine manufacturers Airbus, Leonardo, Safran, GE Avio, MTU, ITP and GKN, as well as European aeronautical research and higher education organisations. Other members include think tank Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Eurocontrol and innovation management company L’Up, with the project receiving third-party support from EASA. IMOTHEP will also involve leading research organisations in Russia and Canada.
Coordinating the initiative is Philippe Novelli of ONERA, who also coordinated a major European research project called SWAFEA (Sustainable Way for Alternative Fuels and Energy for Aviation) a decade ago (see article).
“For ONERA, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key for aviation to pursue its development in the service of society and people mobility,” commented Bruno Sainjon, CEO of ONERA. “This calls for ambitious research and disruptive solutions allowing to go well beyond the continuous improvement of current aircraft technologies.”