Earlier this month, WMG and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) jointly hosted an event discussing the future of electrification in aerospace. The event was attended by a good mix of delegates from both the aerospace and automotive sectors, with senior representatives from industry and academia.

The morning featured a keynote presentation from one of the leaders in the field, Prof David Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems at WMG, who outlined the electrification landscape in automotive and what lessons could be transferred to the aerospace sector. This was followed by the main panel session, chaired by Mark Scully (ATI’s Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion) and made up of experts from both sectors, providing their views and perspectives on the topic as well as taking questions from the floor.  The session was a series of lively discussions ranging from battery technology and the integration of electrical systems, to the challenges of electrification for aerospace, future opportunities, cross-sector collaboration, certification, standards and safety considerations.

There was a real spark throughout the day, with lots of energy generated through discussions and networking. There was clearly a common theme emerging, with key discussion topics including:

  • Short-term priorities to increase electric aircraft systems, particularly in short-range applications, with a view to developing more electric propulsion, hybrid-electric and/or electrically assisted propulsion in the medium-term
  • Understanding of the highly coupled aerodynamic systems and the need for whole-system level engineering integration to achieve the benefits of electrification, alongside current considerations such as boundary layer ingestion
  • Safety considerations and the need to ensure that electrical management systems can operate at extremes of temperature and at altitude
  • A need for enabling common standards, regulatory frameworks and infrastructure
  • The need to promote increasing collaboration across the industry to achieve the new technology requirements
  • The need to create technology roadmaps for future strategic direction to signpost the electrification vision for the sector, with considerations across all technology readiness levels (TRLs)
  • Industrial opportunity is a key driver, and better understanding of how the economic picture and associated supply chains will progress will be a critical factor
  • Significant improvements needed to enhance skills development across the board
  • The importance of bringing the aerospace industry together to present a coherent, compelling vision to Government in order to influence policy around electrification
  • The understanding that this is a cross-modal issue, with today’s transport evolving rapidly, and the need for urgent action

During the event there was wide consensus that the topic of electrification is an important one for the sector, but that much more needs to be done to develop the technologies, skills and capabilities needed to support this.

WMG was one of the primary organisations that helped create some of the opportunities seen today with the Faraday Battery Challenge, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to positioning the UK as a global leader in battery innovation and electrification with £246m funding over four years. WMG is part of both the newly formed Faraday Institute (alongside seven other universities) and has also been awarded £80m to create a new national facility, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC), building the crucial new strategic link between the research, development and full-scale industrialisation for battery technologies across the UK. WMG’s own state-of-the-art £60m facility is now virtually unique in Europe, and the tour provided after the session was a highlight in demonstrating that capability.

One of the ways in which the ATI is already addressing these topics is through its presence and collaboration with Faraday, acting 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. Through this collaboration, we are 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. For example, some of the 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 UK benefits from a world-class ecosystem made up of aerospace organisations from industry, academia and research bodies. Our highly capable supply chain and leading academic capabilities provide the ability for the UK to deliver leadership in this area and disrupt the global market. The ATI, through partnerships such as that with cutting-edge research institution WMG, is working on identifying the technology gaps that will challenge the UK industry to truly deliver disruptive and game changing opportunities.

 

Next steps

The Institute is continuing its dialogue and engagement with WMG, the APC and other stakeholders to develop a roadmap of key technologies that will support this journey. We are keen to encourage greater supply chain engagement as we progress through the journey, harnessing the talent and expertise that exist within these organisations. Following the success of this event, we are planning on hosting further joint WMG-ATI events that will engage the industry as a whole, share expertise, consider the overarching central strategies, and consider plans for developing specific technologies needed for various aerospace system applications.

The Institute will also be publishing an INSIGHT paper on electrification later this year, which will outline the ATI’s electrical power systems strategy.