A passport to all-electric aircraft
Tackling climate change demands a radical transformation of aviation technology. This means tackling a series of discrete technological challenges such as battery development, high voltage high power electrical systems, sourcing new materials, and doing so at pace because the clock is ticking.
In conventional aircraft power is generated by the engines from fossil fuel; the bulk is used for propulsion and the remainder is transformed to hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical and electrical power to supply different loads on-board – creating around 12% of all carbon dioxide emissions from transport sources.
Hybrid and all-electric aircraft are seen as the most ecological solution for generating, distributing and utilising electric power on-board for higher performance, efficiency and subsequent environmental benefits. Companies including Ampaire, Heart Aerospace and ZeroAvia are already designing aircraft - some already fly, some remain on the drawing board.
In such a complex landscape it would be easy for an absence of coordination to slow things down, because innovations are not compatible, because certain problems are being examined many times over whereas others are not being explored, or because regulatory and safety challenges are not being anticipated.
The University of Nottingham is a founding member of Solutions for Aircraft Electrification Leadership (SAEL), a world class partnership of engineers and researchers from industry, academia and regulation. The group is creating an open source technology framework to coordinate and integrate research, innovations and standards to bring sustainable aviation closer - accessible to the aerospace industry, ranging from academia, industry, regulatory bodies and policymakers worldwide.
It helps spot and address the critical challenges, invest in the most promising enabling technology approaches and find the best intersections of expertise. Without such a high level multidisciplinary and global approach, the future of sustainable flights is not likely to happen.
As engineers, scientists and academics, we are accustomed to working in our own spheres and protecting the new knowledge and products we develop. This is quite understandable and logical because no one wants to do the hard work and then see our work copied and used by others without proper referencing or acknowledgement of monetary reward.
Yet I have personally witnessed the much deeper motivation and satisfaction that can come when we cooperate and share our expertise and knowledge while working together towards a loftier common goal.
Dr Sharmila Sumsurooah is a senior research fellow