In-Flight Aviation Testbed Platform for ARPA-E Programs in Power Electronics, Motors, and Power Generation
Electricity generation currently accounts for ~40% of primary energy consumption in the U.S. and continues to be the fastest growing form of end-use energy. The electrification of transportation partially drives this trend, which will increase as new car sales are predicted to be 30% electric by 2040. The next step is electrification of aviation. All-electric commercial jets may seem far off in the future, but ~45% of global flights today are under 500 miles, putting them within range of electric aircraft. Power electronics will play a critical role in electric aviation development as they condition, control, and convert electrical power to provide optimal conditions for distribution and consumption in the electric motor and auxiliary components. Transformative advances in circuit design and system architecture, as demonstrated under the CIRCUITS program, present opportunities to dramatically improve power converter performance while reducing size and weight, making them ideally suited for electric aviation applications. A significant barrier for new power electronic circuit adoption in aircraft, however, is the requirement to demonstrate operation in flight. It is challenging to find aviation platforms that can fly developmental hardware. Filling the in‑flight operational testing gap would de-risk these innovative energy technologies and demonstrate their viability.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Ampaire Inc. will provide a dedicated testbed aircraft that ARPA-E projects can use to deploy and test their technologies at high altitude (up to 6km) in actual flight environments. Ampaire’s dedicated, custom-built, 337 Electric EEL is a converted Cessna 337, the largest aircraft ever to fly using plug-in hybrid electric propulsion. The excess space and flight test payload capacity enable the addition of test circuits without compromising the plane’s performance. Teams can test new power distribution systems, high-power electronics, inverters, motors, propellers, ducted fans, batteries, fuel cells, and high-efficiency combustion engines either directly or as a generator. Measurements taken during flight will include temperature performance, electro-magnetic interference abatement/compliance, and safe equipment operation at altitude. Ampaire will enable installation and ground tests of components before flight to ensure proper fit and functionality. The aircraft will provide ARPA-E teams the flight operation hours needed to validate their technology, overcoming a significant barrier to entry for technologies in aviation applications.
If successful, CIRCUITS projects will enable further development of a new class of power converters for aviation applications.
More robust power electronics that withstand higher operating temperatures have increased durability, a smaller form factor, and higher efficiency that will significantly improve the reliability for aviation applications.
Low cost and highly efficient power electronics could lead to higher performance and more affordable electric and hybrid-electric aviation reducing transportation related emissions.
High performance, low cost power electronics would enable more affordable electric and hybrid-electric aviation with reduced fuel costs, longer maintenance intervals, and increased reliability, ultimately reducing transportation costs for businesses and their customers.