New electric motor could be an in-flight game changer

20 Apr 2015

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To slim down the end shield, Siemens developed a special optimization algorithm and integrated it into the Siemens CAE-Program NX Nastran.

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A new kind of electric motor developed by Siemens may be the first step in an engine revolution for airplanes – it’s power-to-weight ratio is record setting and can support aircrafts up to tonnes in weight.

The motors themselves weigh just 50kg, delivering a “continuous output of 260 kilowatts”, which Siemens claims is five-times that of comparable drive systems.

New simulation practices and “sophisticated” lightweight production helped the researchers reach a ration of five kilowatts to every kilogram. They also went back over previous motors to try eke out every last bit of performance.

"This innovation will make it possible to build series hybrid-electric aircraft with four or more seats," said Frank Anton, head of eAircraft at Siemens Corporate Technology, the company's central research unit.

The motor is scheduled to begin flight-testing before the end of 2015. In the next step, the Siemens researchers will boost output further.

This isn’t Siemens’ first foray into electric motor driven vehicles, indeed it’s not even the first industry. In the past the company has worked with Volvo for fast-charging e-car batteries, while also looking at ferries to help optimise their e-performance.

Currently the record motor is being tested on a test rig. The motor has been specially designed for use in aircraft. Via Siemens

"We're convinced that the use of hybrid-electric drives in regional airliners with 50 to 100 passengers is a real medium-term possibility," said Anton.

In-flight testing is due to start this year, with the development of this device supported by the German Aviation Research Program.

Of course, many businesses are looking at ways to generate greater power from motors of lesser weight. For example, Rocket Lab in New Zealand is looking at ways to reduces the weight – while maintaining the power – of engines for spacecraft.

"We have an electric motor that's basically the size of a Coke can and it produces over 50 horsepower at 40,000rpm," said Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck last week.

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com