Shock of the new: Clean Sky brings innovation to energy management
Aviation is shifting towards electrification, not just in terms of propulsion but also in respect of using electrical power to actuate aircraft flight control surfaces and also for replacing the use of pneumatic systems which bleed air off the aircraft’s engines. Clean Sky’s Innovative Energy Management Systems Architectures for More Electrical Large Aircraft project brings together the best of Europe’s aircraft systems architecture specialists to define, demonstrate and mature new electrical technologies to enable more electrical aircraft.
Electrical power generation and distribution is key when it comes to designing the systems architecture of the next generation of civil airliners. Here’s why: The actuators that control the moving flight surfaces – features such as flaps, ailerons, and moving parts of the tail – rely on hydraulic systems. Many of these types of systems have not changed much in decades, and use hydraulic fluid which is environmentally sub-optimal by today’s standards. Another aspect where electrification will be beneficial in the aircraft of the future is in the area of pneumatic systems – features of the aircraft such as air-conditioning systems that rely on air that is bled off the main engines, but which mean a small degradation in engine efficiency. On today’s aircraft, it’s often the case that hydraulic and pneumatic systems are oversized, making them heavy and causing extra fuel-burn.
Clean Sky’s Innovative Energy Management Systems Architectures for More Electrical Large Aircraft project, which runs until 2023, is looking at the challenges of replacing hydraulics and pneumatics with electrical alternatives, looking at how to introduce high voltage direct current (HVDC) sources and distribution equipment, power management and electronic modules, cooling management and various associated and supporting electronics technologies onto future aircraft.
To define, demonstrate and mature new electrical technologies to make this all viable, Airbus, Safran, Thales, Liebherr and Zodiac have been collaborating on new approaches to tackle these enormous technical challenges. Each partner has been assigned various tasks which are tested using rigs and test benches.
There are test benches in Liebherr to test electrical environmental control systems and their corresponding power electronics; there are test rigs in Safran to test electrical network components, electrical distribution centres, generators and converters. There are test benches in Thales to test electrical generators, and at Zodiac there is a test bench to be able to examine the electrical power management centre.
Airbus, the leader of the project, is developing its PROVEN test bench, which allows integration and testing of novel electrical power sources, a power management centre and power distribution lines in order to simulate the Clean Sky innovative electrical consumers, such as the electrical environmental control system, or electrical wing ice protection systems.
’The PROVEN test bench also allows us to test the reconfiguration of the electrical network, which is built from all those components,’ says Jean-Jacques Fagot of AIRBUS SAS, XTE Clean Sky 2 programme overall systems & IRT manager. ’So, for example, to test several power sources in parallel such as the generator engine or batteries and to test them in combination in various scenarios such as during engine start-up or engine failure.’
The project runs until 2023, and, says Airbus’ Fagot, ’the electrical power generation and distribution network, which will be integrated and tested on the Airbus test bench, will continue to be used, and will continue to support further improvement and integration of contributing partners’ components to ensure that we have the targeted robust High Voltage DC network available when it is necessary for future aircraft.’
’It’s a win-win approach,’ says Fagot. ’Clean Sky is supporting Airbus in developing this More Electrical Aircraft capability, thanks to the collaborative contributions of European aviation industry’s major as well as small and medium-sized companies. The framework of Clean Sky 2 allows this collaborative approach which would otherwise be too costly and difficult to achieve.’
’On the other hand,’ he adds, ’More Electrical Aircraft contributes to the Clean Sky 2 objectives in terms of more environmentally friendly civil aeronautics and a more competitive European aeronautical industry.
In particular, thanks to the connections and networks that Airbus is fostering on those Clean Sky 2 demonstrators, we are, in a way, training our partners to become competitive suppliers for future programmes.’