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Rolls-Royce strengthens position in race to develop electric aero-engines

18th October 2019

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Renowned UK industrial technology group Rolls-Royce has completed its purchase of Siemens’ eAircraft business. The deal was originally announced in June. eAircraft was the German electrification, automation and digitalisation group’s electric and hybrid-electric aerospace propulsion unit. “We are very pleased with the rapid execution of the necessary legal and procedural steps to complete this acquisition,” said Rolls-Royce electrical director Rob Watson. “We are welcoming our new colleagues into Rolls-Royce today and look forward to working with them to pioneer new technologies and solutions.”

The British group sees this new acquisition as accelerating its plans to play a leading role in the development of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems for aviation – an advance that is being called the ‘third era’ of aviation. “We are at the dawn of the ‘third era’ of aviation, which will bring a new class of quieter and cleaner air transport to the skies, and our new colleagues will add vital skills, expertise and new technology to our portfolio.”

“The technology portfolio and skills we have acquired complement our existing developments in electrification, which include microgrids and hybrid-electric trains, as well as aerospace applications,” highlighted Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Paul Stein. The UK group’s new unit is focused on the development of a number of hybrid-electric and all-electric aerospace propulsion systems.

The former Siemens facilities are based in Germany and Hungary, and employ some 180 electrical design and engineering specialists. The facilities and personnel will remain in their current locations. Rolls-Royce and the then eAircraft have been partners in the E-Fan X hybrid-electric aero-engine technology demonstrator programme (the other partner is Airbus). E-Fan X involves replacing one of the four turbofan engines on a BAE Systems 146 regional jet airliner with a 2 MW electric motor, with the associated batteries and a generator fitted in the fuselage. The E-Fan X aircraft is scheduled to make its first flight in 2021.

This is only one of the electric and hybrid-electric flight technology programmes that Rolls-Royce is involved in. The group has already carried out successful ground tests on a hybrid-electric propulsion system for smaller aircraft. These include general aviation (popularly called light) aircraft, hybrid helicopters and hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles. “These tests are part of one of the world’s most comprehensive hybrid aerospace turbine engine development and integration programmes, paving the way for experimental test flights in 2021,” highlighted the company in its press release. “We are also developing an all-electric demonstrator aircraft, as part of the ACCEL initiative that will attempt to break the world speed record for all-electric flight.” The aim is to produce an aircraft that will exceed 480 km/h in flight. (ACCEL is partly funded by the UK government through the Aerospace Technology Institute; the other partners in the project are two other UK enterprises: electric controller and motor manufacturer Yasa and startup aviation company Electroflight.)

At the end of August, Rolls-Royce initiated a joint research programme with the largest regional airline in Scandinavia, Norway’s Widerøe, for the development of zero-emissions aviation. The airline has the ambition of replacing and electrifying its regional airliner fleet of more than 30 aircraft by 2030. “The development of electric aviation looks promising, but we need to progress faster,” said Widerøe chief strategy officer Andreas Aks at the time of the announcement of the programme. “We are therefore pleased to have the world’s most renowned engine manufacturer on board with us on this pioneering green journey.” (Rolls-Royce has an advanced electrical research facility in Trondheim, Norway.)

“Electrification is just one of the ways in which we are making aviation more sustainable,” pointed out Stein. “We are continuing to increase the fuel efficiency of our gas turbines, increasing the integration between airframe and engine, and encouraging the development of sustainable fuels.”

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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