Eviation Aircraft and Siemens’ collaboration for electric airplanes

Materials World magazine
,
25 Mar 2019

Israeli start-up Eviation Aircraft and Siemens announced their plans to cooperate on developing propulsion systems for all-electric airplanes. Shardell Joseph finds out more. 

Siemens has committed to supply advanced motor technology to produce Eviation Aircrafts’ nine-passenger all-electric regional commuter plane – Alice. Eviation plans to debut the Alice aircraft at the Paris Air Show this June.

In the running to becoming the aviation industry’s first fully commercial battery-powered model, Siemens will supply low-weight, high-power electric motors for the plane, which will conduct its first test flight later this year at Eviation’s headquarters in Arizona, USA.

‘Our vision is to provide commuters and travellers a sustainable, quiet ride at a price point that makes this transportation option accessible to a wide range of people,’ said an Eviation spokesperson.

The Alice will be developed with a lightweight composite construction, a distributed propulsion system, using three Siemens 260kW electric motors. This will power both a main pusher propeller at the tail and two pusher propellers at the wingtips. According to Eviation, the aircraft will be capable of flying nine passengers up to 1,046km on a single charge at a cruising speed of 220 knots (407km per hour), equipped with a 900kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

‘Eviation’s Alice plane is one of the first aircraft that we have seen that aims to capitalise on the promise of distributed electric propulsion through its innovative wingtip propeller arrangement,’ says Siemens electric aircraft engineer, Olaf Otto.

‘Eviation is using our SP260D series engines. Currently they have the SP260D-X installed, this will be replaced with the newer SP260D-A in due course. The motors provide up to 260kW of power at a weight of 50kg for the D-X and below 46kg for the D-A.’

Developed to be a commercial plane, the Alice will be economical – running costs will be about US$200 per flight hour versus US$1,000 for a turboprop. According to Bar-Yohay, the plane should sell for US$3m-$5m. Last November, Bloomberg reported that Eviation needed an additional US$200m to bring the Alice to the market, which was secured by strategic investors in January.

Electric takes flight

Hindered by the limitations of battery technology, the aviation sector has recently been exploring new technologies for electric flight. Looking to find new alternatives to offset the sector’s growing carbon footprint, new aviation developments trialled by companies worldwide include battery-powered air taxis, passenger drones and autonomous aircraft.

Aviation accounts for about 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, releasing around 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. The International Civil Aviation Organisation estimates that by 2050, aircraft-generated emissions will triple in volume. The global incentive to drastically reduce emissions within the next decade has pushed for the replacement of gas-guzzling planes with electric ones – which could have a huge effect on emission reductions.

Aviation start-ups are leading the development to commercial electric aircraft, most of which are focused on building small planes for regional travel. Hotspots for electric flight innovation have popped up in the USA, Israel, Germany, and parts of Eastern Europe.

With the emergence of start-ups in an industry lacking a start-up culture, the companies in competition have created a collaborative approach to developing new electric aviation technologies. ‘It’s much more collaborative than it is competitive,’ said Bar-Yohey. ‘If we have a battery, you have a battery.’

 

Recognising the importance of reducing emissions, big companies and manufacturers are increasingly involved in the development of electric aviation. ‘Siemens has been developing electric motors for aircraft for over a decade,’ says Otto. ‘In 2011, we made the world’s first serial hybrid-electric plane fly – the DA36 E-Star. And since 2016, the Extra 330LE aerobatic plane, powered by a propulsion system from Siemens, set several world records in speed and climb rate.

‘Our motors are being used in aircraft like the Bye Aerospace Sunflyer or the Magnus eFusion. Finally, the Cityairbus air taxi from Airbus is using electric motors from Siemens.’

The push to reduce emissions and produce electric aircraft is redefining the technological advancement in the industry. It is predicted there will be a lot more growth in electric aeroplanes in the future. ‘We think the trend towards electric and hybrid-electric motor systems for aircraft is gaining more and more momentum,’ says Otto. ‘It’s not the question whether hybrid-electric aircraft will be flying at all, but when they’ll be flying.’