Airbus invests in electric-propulsion technology to lead the way to more sustainable flight.

According to Glenn Llewellyn, General Manager, Electrification at Airbus, zero-emission flight is not the “pipedream” that most people may think. His latest project E-Fan X—a complex hybrid-electric aircraft demonstrator—is the next step in Airbus’ electrification journey. When the demonstrator embarks on its first flight in 2021, the E-Fan X will be a giant leap towards making zero-emission flight a reality by the mid-2030s.

Airbus E-Fan X

Rendering of the E-Fan X, courtesy of Airbus.

Aviation connects people, cultures and businesses. It enables mutual understanding and is considered a contributor to world peace. The problem is not aviation. The problem is carbon.

Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus General Manager, Electrification

In preparation for the demonstrator’s first flight in 2021, the E-Fan X’s electric motor will undergo rigorous testing at the E-Aircraft System (EAS) House. This newly developed facility about 13 kilometres from Munich is dedicated to the advancement of electric propulsion and its contribution to the goal of zero-emission flight. The E-Aircraft System House is Europe’s largest test facility dedicated to alternative propulsion systems and fuels, and second in the world only to NASA’s facility in the U.S.

In early 2020, Rolls-Royce will deliver the electric motor that will replace one of the four gas turbines installed on the test aircraft—a BAe 146. The electric motor will be equipped with 2 MW of power. Once the electric motor arrives, it will undergo rigorous testing. This starts with mounting the electric motor on one of the EAS test rigs, applying the required sensors and installing cameras to monitor progress. The testing will be extensive but necessary to prove the viability of the electric motor’s capabilities in preparation for the E-Fan X’s first flight, scheduled for 2021.

Airbus is committed to developing, building and testing electric and hybrid-electric future technology that will enable the aviation industry to significantly reduce the CO2 emissions of commercial aircraft.

Timeline representation of the many electrification and aerial mobility initiatives in progress or planned by Airbus.

There are already many electrification efforts, mostly focused on smaller aircraft. Zunum Aero, backed by Boeing and JetBlue Airways Corp., aims to bring a hybrid-electric commuter model to market by 2022. MagniX Technologies Pty Ltd. is developing a propulsion system for an all-electric plane with a similar date in mind. Israeli startup Eviation is also going fully electric, with a nine-passenger plane that made its debut at the Paris Air Show in June.

Related: MagniX and Harbour Air Progress Further in ePlane Project

Why it’s important: In June, Toulouse, France-based Airbus, its U.S. rival Boeing Co. and other large players pledged to reduce the industry’s net CO2 emissions by half in 2050 compared with 2005 levels. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are under intense scrutiny over the industry’s role in contributing to global warming, but their ability to respond is limited by development cycles lasting a decade or longer and products that can last 50 years. Meanwhile, rising air traffic is adding to pressure on the sector to come up with a response. It is efforts such as Airbus’ E-Fan X that will ultimately alleviate the carbon footprint of the aviation industry, and inspire and jumpstart other sustainable practices in cities worldwide.

Posted by George Gatsios

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