Rolls-Royce entered into an agreement to acquire the electric and hybrid-electric aerospace propulsion activities of Siemens, collectively referred to as that company’s eAircraft business. Expected to complete late 2019, Rolls-Royce states the move will accelerate the delivery of its electrification strategy and boost what it describes as an ambition to play a major role in the third era of aviation.
The eAircraft business, based in Germany and Hungary, employs around 180 specialist electrical designers and engineers who have been developing a range of all-electric and hybrid electric propulsion technologies. The eAircraft team is already known to Rolls-Royce because the two groups have worked together on the E-Fan X demonstrator project, designed to demonstrate hybrid electric propulsion at a scale required to power regional aircraft.
“Electrification is set to have as dramatic an impact on aviation as the replacement of piston engines by gas turbines,” said Rob Watson, director, Rolls-Royce Electrical. “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.”
“We have already made significant strides in realizing our strategy of championing electrification and this move will accelerate our ambitions in aerospace by adding vital skills and technology to our portfolio,” continued Watson. “It brings us increased scale and additional expertise as we develop a product range of hybrid power and propulsion systems.”
As part of this agreement, Rolls-Royce explains it look for opportunities to work with Siemens to support national and international goals of CO2 emission reductions. “To support the rising demand for air travel while achieving CO2 emissions targets, the aviation industry is developing increasingly environmentally friendly technologies and practices,” said Paul Stein, chief technology officer, Rolls-Royce. “The electrification of flight is just one part of Rolls-Royce’s commitment to making aviation more sustainable: We are continuing to increase the fuel efficiency of our gas turbines; encouraging the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable aviation fuels; and pursuing the electrification of aviation.
“We believe that pure electric, or all-electric, propulsion will power smaller aircraft in the foreseeable future, while larger aircraft will rely upon hybrid electric solutions that combine electrification with evolutions of the gas turbine,” continued Stein. “Additionally, as our group technological portfolio becomes increasingly electrical with the development of hybrid electric trains and microgrids, the capabilities of this world-class team will be a vital part of the future Rolls-Royce.”
Rolls-Royce has already made progress toward the electrification of flight with successful ground tests of a hybrid propulsion system that can be used across a range of smaller transport platforms, including EVTOLs (hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles), general aviation aircraft and hybrid helicopters. The company states these tests are part of one of the world’s most-comprehensive hybrid aerospace turbine engine development and integration programs, paving the way for experimental test flights in 2021.
The ground tests involved a Rolls-Royce M250 gas turbine, which has powered more than 170 varieties of fixed-wing military, civilian aircraft and helicopters since its introduction. The test have it operating in a series hybrid configuration, where the engine operates as a turbo-generator that charges an on-board battery system; parallel hybrid where the aircraft’s thrust is supplied by a combination of the engine and the electrical system; and turbo-electric mode where the engine operates as a pure turbo-generator supplying electric power for thrust and any other power needs on the aircraft.