Hybrid electric and all electric aircraft concepts are being considered to address the environmental impacts of the aerospace sector’s forecasted growth. Climate change (driven by CO2 emissions including effects from contrail formation), local air quality (driven by NOx, unburnt hydrocarbons and particulate emissions) and community noise, are all areas that will rise with increasing air traffic, if advanced technologies and other mitigations are not applied. Much time, money and effort has been invested by the aerospace community to drive down emissions and noise over time, and this is continuing (in-part through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) programme).  The sector focus over the next ten years or so is to provide improvements in airframe and aero-engine weight and aerodynamics; aero-engine manufacturers are also investing heavily in material developments to deliver further improvements in fuel efficiency.

The next phase of this development aligns with two of the ATI’s (four) strategic technology themes within Raising Ambition – the Institute’s technology strategy; Propulsion of the Future, and Smart, Connected and More Electric Aircraft. The themes investigate and evaluate the potential of large-scale hybrid turbo-electric propulsion systems, which also include the development of battery technologies.

Battery technology has been an integral part of many new small aircraft concepts and flight demonstrators, which to-date have been in the General Aviation segment. Larger demonstrator plans have also recently been publicised by commercial aerospace Primes.  In the future, battery technology will be an increasingly critical element for delivery of large commercial hybrid and all electric aircraft, both in terms of technical capability and economic value for the UK aerospace supply chain.  Key challenges in terms of aerospace, to be considered through the Faraday Challenge, are the development of safety critical battery management systems, and improved gravimetric and volumetric density of energy storage systems, to enable usable aircraft range for commercial transport markets.

The Faraday Battery Challenge, funded through the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, supports the development of battery technologies. Although this is primarily for use in the automotive sector, the ATI is ensuring that the technology challenges identified for aerospace electrification are integrated into the Faraday Challenge research programme – enabling the development of technologies that can be transferred into the aerospace sector.

The Institute’s presence and collaboration with Faraday will act as a voice for UK aerospace. Our Chief Operating Officer Dr Ruth Mallors-Ray OBE is a member of the Faraday Challenge Advisory Group, and Mark Scully, our Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion, is a member of the Technical Advisory Group.

The ATI’s engagement with the aerospace community is continuing to identify differentiating technologies for future hybrid and all electric aircraft, including battery technology. We will continue to share updates and progress with the sector in due course.