NISKAYUNA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — From the Wright brothers to the Right Stuff, humankind has been fascinated with flight, in all its forms, for more than a century. And now a team of engineers at General Electric’s (GE) Global Research Center in Niskayuna is working to power the future of aviation with electricity.
Satish Prabhakaran, who heads up the hybrid electric technology program, says, “Hybrid electric flight is the combination of a traditional gas turbine that propels an aircraft with another system that then enables the entire aircraft for more fuel-efficient flight.”
Everyone is looking to create a more sustainable future. New York State will require all new cars and trucks sold to be zero emissions by 2035. And the airline industry is no different.
“There’s several technologies ranging from flight management systems, better fuels, new fuels, and part of that is electric. Some of those technologies will also include an electrical system that will augment the propulsion system, saving fuel,” Prabhakaran said.
With a little help from the Department of Energy, engineers are also working to power a commercial airliner entirely with electricity. GE’S eFLITES project leader John Yagielski says, “Right now, the state-of-the-art for those kinds of things, which is emerging right now, is nowhere near the power density or the weight, low enough weight, to be able to accomplish that.”
Prabhakaran adds, “It starts with the chip, silicon carbide. We have organic capabilities. We build these chips in-house.” He continues, “To be able to compress megawatts of electric power into an aircraft space, it’s going to take, fundamentally, different kinds of semiconductors to do that than what’s commercially available.”
The Department of Energy’s advanced research agency, better known as ARPA-E, recently awarded the eFLITES team with nearly $6 million for Phase 2 of their work.
“We’ll build a scale version of that entire power system. From DC power all the way to torque to driver/propulsor,” Yagielski said.
The research campus in Niskayuna recently hosted an electrification symposium where 200 of the best and brightest from their fields gathered to talk about electrifying aviation. According to Prabhakaran, “Experts from several government agencies, academia, and even private industries gave us a deeper dive into their respective technologies and how everybody views their piece on the future airplane.”