GE Aerospace's Avio Aero has launched a new technology demonstration programme that continues to advance development of hybrid electric propulsion technologies for commercial aviation and supports efforts to make air transport more fuel efficient in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
The Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking of the European Commission has awarded approximately 34 million euros over four years to a consortium led by Avio Aero for the AMBER demonstrator in a recently finalised agreement.
Plans are to mature, integrate and validate key technologies necessary for a megawatt (MW)-class hybrid-electric propulsion system powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The AMBER demonstrator will study integration of hybrid electric components, including a motor/generator, power converters and power transmission systems, with fuel cells for rig testing in the mid-2020s using Avio Aero's advanced Catalyst turboprop engine.
“We are proud to announce the launch of the AMBER hybrid-electric programme, which aims to demonstrate the benefits of an innovative aircraft propulsion system coupling a turbine engine with a fuel cell-powered electric motor. As this shows, we're looking to design, develop and test breakthrough technologies to shape the future of more sustainable flight in Europe, and we appreciate the collaboration with Clean Aviation to make this demonstrator possible,” says Avio vice president of engineering Giorgio Abrate. “The recognition and awarding of our AMBER proposal by Clean Aviation confirm its strategic and technological value to support European Union ambitions to reach net-zero CO2 emissions from flight by 2050.”
Hybrid electric propulsion technologies can help improve engine performance, reducing fuel usage and emissions. The hybrid electric technologies Avio Aero and its parent company GE Aerospace are developing are also compatible with alternative fuels like SAF and with advanced engine architectures such as open fan.
The Clean Aviation partnership with industry helps accelerate innovation of key technologies like electrification to meet these ambitions.
“For the transformation towards climate neutral we must do more with less energy, and aviation is no exception,” says Clean Aviation executive director Axel Krein. “Clean Aviation's primary ambition is to drive a step change in aircraft performance by radically boosting efficiency in aircraft and fleet performance. For regional aircraft, our goal is an improvement of at least 50 per cent compared to a typical flight today. The AMBER project, as one of our 20 daring new projects now underway, will play a key role in helping us to deliver this ambitious target.”
The Avio Aero-led consortium consists of a total 21 members from Europe, including Avio Aero's European technology development network of universities and R&D centres. Other GE Aerospace sites in Europe, including those in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Turkey and the UK, will contribute to research of the engine, propeller and electric powertrain systems.
H2Fly, a Germany-based company specialising in the development of hydrogen-electric power systems for aircraft, supplies the MW-class fuel cell system, along with the corresponding architecture, interfaces and fuel cell controls. H2Fly is also responsible for the build-up of the MW fuel cell system as part of the powertrain validation and testing in collaboration with the project partners.
“The development of a megawatt-class hybrid-electric propulsion system for aviation marks an important step towards the realisation of emission-free passenger aviation. We look forward to contributing to this development and sharing our expertise as a global technology leader in the field of hydrogen-electric aviation,” says co-founder and CEO professor Dr Josef Kallo.
Another key partner on the AMBER demonstrator is Leonardo, which will provide guidance on aircraft integration in the configuration of the hybrid electric propulsion system.
AMBER is one of several Clean Aviation projects associated with Avio Aero to be recently awarded funding. The project HYDEA, coordinated by Avio Aero, will develop a hydrogen combustion engine for flight tests in collaboration with Safran Aircraft Engines, Airbus and more European companies, universities and research centres. Additionally, through another project with Clean Aviation called OFELIA, coordinated by Safran Aircraft Engines, plans are to demonstrate open fan architecture in flight tests later this decade in collaboration with Airbus. Avio Aero is a key partner with Safran on OFELIA.
The development of hydrogen combustion and open fan technologies are part of CFM International's RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) programme, which was unveiled in 2021 to advance new engine architectures, hybrid electric and advanced compact core technologies to achieve at least 20 per cent better fuel efficiency and 20 per cent fewer CO2 emissions by the mid-2030s compared to the most efficient engines in service today.
Avio Aero is also part of the HERA Clean Aviation project, led by Leonardo, with the aim to define a regional aircraft concept suited for hybrid-electric propulsion. Leonardo is also participating in a total of eight Clean Aviation proposals, including AMBER and HERA, and is a founding member of Clean Aviation, along with Avio Aero.