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ASPIRE: Facilitating Europe's aspirations for electric flight

ASPIRE converter cell
ASPIRE converter cell

With the shift towards electrification in transport, developing techno-bricks to enable the next generation of passenger airliners is key. Clean Sky's ASPIRE project focuses on specific areas of advanced electrical power distribution and energy management systems in order to facilitate European aeronautics' ambitions to deliver cleaner, quieter skies for Europe's future aerial connectivity.

Clean Sky's ASPIRE project, which started in September 2016 and runs until 29 February 2020, focuses on electrical power systems (EPS) and power electronics (PE) with the aim of designing, developing and manufacturing an innovative DC/DC cellular converter with automatic inversion functionality. This will be a key component in the creation and demonstration of an advanced electrical power distribution system (EPDS) with enhanced electrical energy management (E2-EM) capability. 

The consortium, composed of the University of Nottingham (project coordinator), Power Naples Prototype Laboratory SRL, Università Degli Studi Della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli,  and topic manager Leonardo Aircraft Division, has been collaborating on the design and development of more efficient electrical power systems for future aircraft, to make them more environmentally compliant. And, due to the University of Nottingham's role in the international aerospace standards committee for aircraft electrical systems, ASPIRE’s results could potentially be integrated into the development of future standards for aircraft electrical power system architectures and concepts, with the prospect of broader international impact of the project. The project also holds value for Clean Sky's REG IADP through its development and implementation of a "smart-grid" concept.

‘This project is important because in the frame of more electrical aircraft there's a switch  from hydraulic systems to more electrical systems, and when you have more electrical systems you have higher demand on the electrical side. Clean Sky's ASPIRE project helps with the electrical power distribution,’ says Clean Sky project officer Costin-Ciprian Miglan. 

‘Not everything in aeronautics is about aerodynamics – it's also about what happens inside the aircraft, and this brings new challenges. But the technologies we need for these more electrical aircraft of the future are not yet fully mature. This project is helping us to address these new challenges and also to reduce weight,’ says Miglan.

The project is aiming for a step change in the design and development of future onboard electrical power distribution systems by making them “smart”. In order to achieve this, the ASPIRE consortium has been introducing flexible architectures which are controlled using enhanced electrical energy management algorithms.

"The core of such future flexible architectures is a multi-cellular power electronic converter which implements multi-directional routing of energy, depending on, and optimised for, possible flight scenarios," says Professor Serhiy Bozhko, Director at the Institute for Aerospace Technology in the University of Nottingham.

Real-Time Testing of ASPIRE Enhanced Energy Management
Real-Time Testing of ASPIRE Enhanced Energy Management

The design of the converter cells is based on cutting-edge technologies employing wide-band-gap devices that enable very high efficiency and controllability, and which minimise their weight and volume. Currently the converter is at the end of an intensive test programme and by the end of February 2020 the University of Nottingham will deliver it to the Leonardo Aircraft Division for further integration and testing as a part of their innovative “Iron Bird” facility (a physical test bed where electrical systems can be assessed for their functionality and performance).

‘ASPIRE will strengthen European competitiveness and will create potential for future growth by introducing breakthrough innovations that meet the needs of the European and global aerospace markets,' says Professor Bozhko. 'In addition to technological innovations, the project is also generating new knowledge and knowhow in many areas critical for aerospace electrical engineering, such as efficient and optimised power electronics design, smart grid supervisor control, highly reliable and safe systems, distributed computing and power generation, as well as scalable high efficiency and reduced weight and reduced volume cellular power converters.’

Graphical User Interface (GUI) for Energy Management
Graphical User Interface (GUI) for Energy Management

The ASPIRE concept will result in a significant reduction in the number of power converters that need to be installed onboard. In addition, each of the required converters will be significantly lighter compared with existing solutions, resulting in a substantial reduction of the overall EPS mass. This means less impact on the environment, as well as being an important case study in the Clean Sky portfolio of techno-bricks that will facilitate the next generation of more-electrical aviation.

Flexible EPS Architecture with Advanced Energy Management
Flexible EPS Architecture with Advanced Energy Management

‘Clean Sky offers a unique ecosystem and a framework for pulling together long-term collaborations for the benefit of the aeronautics industry, and due to its long-term nature, the leaders can define programmes with a strong element of technology pull, so there's a good chance that the outcomes could eventually be integrated into products,’ says Professor Bozhko. 'The framework creates the possibility to select the best candidates with the right blend of skills and experience to undertake research and deliver results through the aeronautics supply chain. This means that research and innovation activities can happen away from short-term commercial pressures, enabling ambitious research to take place with the potential for higher gains at a level of risk that companies would not normally accept for their own R&D activities. Clean Sky's ASPIRE project is a good example of benefiting from this environment and creating a consortium capable of successfully addressing complex multidisciplinary scientific tasks, pushing their development through the TRL ladder towards industrialisation for the benefit of society and the environment.’

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