The Future of Modern Air Transport: How Do Hybrid Aircraft Help in Decarbonizing the Aviation Sector?
11 Feb 2024
Advantages of hybrid electric aircraft over conventional aircraft
Technological advancements in battery systems
Innovative product launches in the industry
With the growing shift towards decarbonization, there has been increasing focus on sustainable air transport using green aviation technologies. Extensive research in aviation engineering has given some positive results in the past few years. Recently, aviation technology experts have gained success in developing hybrid electric aircraft that use a combination of engines powered by aviation fuels and electric powertrain for propulsion.
Growing demand for hybrid aircraft: Reasons to explore
Hybrid electric aircraft (HEA), or simply hybrid aircraft, make use of gas turbine engines for powering the aircraft as well as charging the battery packs; these batteries, in turn, power the engine during propulsion. Hybrid aviation technology was first developed in the early 2010s and has grown in stature and demand ever since then. The rising concerns regarding emissions from conventional aircraft and growing voices to adopt sustainable aviation technologies is the main reason behind this growth in demand. Research in aviation technology pioneered by Airbus has revealed that hybridization in aircraft can help in bringing down the consumption level of aviation fuel by around 5%.
Another important factor behind the rise in demand for these aircraft is the efficiency of hybrid electric aircraft. Electric powertrains which form a major component of hybrid electric aircraft have an efficiency of around 90% as compared to 40-50% efficiency of traditional aircraft. Hence, aviation companies are investing heavily in this modern technology, as it offers an efficient mode of transportation.
Also, HEAs can be easily scaled as supply chains for the production of electric powertrains have been already established across the globe. Aviation companies have streamlined the manufacturing processes which help in faster production of these aircraft. Furthermore, HEAs have fewer noise issues as compared to conventional aircraft. Since electric motors are much quieter than conventional aircraft with combustion engines, HEAs make much less noise, especially during taxiing and cruising.
How are the advancements in battery systems helping address the challenges in hybrid aviation technology?
Despite its advantages, some aviation technology experts look at HEAs with skepticism. The key reason behind this is the limited range of HEAs which make them unsuitable for long-distance transportation. To counter this, most of the studies and R&D activities in the hybrid aircraft industry are aimed at improving the range of HEAs.
The design of advanced battery systems which will allow the aircraft to travel large distances without refueling is a major development in the industry. Leading companies in the industry including Boeing, Airbus, Lilium, Bye Aerospace, etc., with huge investments in battery technologies, have developed HEA prototypes that have a flight range of around 1000 kms. Though the seating capacity of these HEAs is quite small, they have paved the way for developing sophisticated hybrid electric aircraft in the coming period.
Exploring the industry landscape with some innovative product launches
A major reason behind the growth of the hybrid aircraft industry is the presence of leading aviation companies including Rolls-Royce Holdings plc., General Electric Company, Raytheon Technologies Corporation, Embraer S.A., Airbus, etc. in this domain. These companies, recognizing the potential of this domain, have made tremendous investments in developing state-of-the-art HEAs. As a result, these companies have been able to take a lead over their competitors and have made certain innovative business offerings.
Rolls-Royce Holdings plc., for example, in June 2022, announced the launch of a new-generation turbogenerator technology. This technology will ultimately help in the development of small engines for powering HEAs. Rob Watson, President of Rolls-Royce Electrical Division, issued a statement saying that the launch of this technology will help the company to develop propulsion systems for advanced air mobility systems. In the long run, these systems will form the basis for larger HEA projects.
Similarly, in November 2023, Electra.aero, Inc., announced that its ultra-short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft, EL-2 Goldfinch, had successfully completed its first flight. The company released a statement which revealed the details of this test flight. The flight duration was about 23 minutes; the aircraft was able to cover a distance of 30 miles and reach an altitude of 3,200 feet. In the last few years, such technological developments and product launches have increased the demand for piloted HEAs significantly. As a result, the piloted segment of the industry is anticipated to gather a revenue of $4,948.4 million by 2032.
To conclude, the hybrid aircraft industry is set to experience huge growth owing to the crucial advantages offered by hybrid aviation technology over conventional aircraft. Technological advancements to improve battery systems, along with innovations by leading companies in the domain will further help the hybrid electric aircraft industry to flourish.
For an in-depth analysis of various growth drivers and opportunities in the hybrid aircraft industry, feel free to contact us. We can also help your business comply with industry regulations, policies, and standard operating procedures.
Author's Bio- Akhilesh Prabhugaonkar holds a bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering from the reputed Vishwakarma Institute of Technology. He has a special interest in the fields of forensics, world history, international relations and foreign policy, sports, agriculture, astronomy, security, and oceanography. An ardent bibliophile and melophile, Akhilesh loves to write on topics of his interest and various other societal issues. This love for writing made him enter the professional world of content writing and pursue his career in this direction.