Airbus is aiming to explore high-voltage battery behaviour during test flights of an electric light aircraft this year, with the aim of applying the technology to ‘micro-hybridisation’ – the use of battery power in a supportive, rather than propulsive, role for larger aircraft types.
The low energy density of lithium-ion batteries – while sufficient for small aircraft – is an obstacle to using such technology for propulsive means on heavier models.
But Airbus believes batteries can assist with decarbonisation by powering a number of systems on the aircraft and reducing the engines’ energy load.
Potential candidate systems include cabin pressurisation, communications, flight controls, and landing-gear. Battery power could also relieve demand on the engines and auxiliary power unit during particular phases of flight.
The EcoPulse light-aircraft project, designed to examine distributed electric propulsion units, will be based on a Daher airframe.
Airbus Defence and Space is developing the lithium-ion battery – some 2.3m long, 75cm wide and 20cm deep – that will be mounted on the fuselage underside. It will supply electrical power to EcoPulse, along with an e-APU sourced from Safran.
Prototype batteries for EcoPulse are to undergo testing in Toulouse, to assess performance and safety characteristics before installation.
“Our design featured several thousand lithium-Ion cells, incorporating various safety measures to prevent thermal runaway, such as connecting each cell with wire bonding,” says Airbus battery project leader Julien Laurent.
“Another innovative part is the active-cooling system which ensures the optimum temperature for normal operation.”
Airbus says the 350kg battery – which will also have its own management system – will provide 350kW of power.
“Not only is this power level sufficient for driving EcoPulse’s six electric propulsors – depending on the test conditions – but it also happens to be similar to what would be needed for an airliner’s non-propulsive secondary systems,” the airframer states.
Airbus describes the high-voltage battery as a “technology brick” for its aerospace sustainability research.
“Hybridisation, thanks to batteries such as this, is just one of the enablers which we will need to decarbonise,” it adds.