Rising CO2 price makes electric commuter aircraft economical

February 17, 2020 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Rising CO2 price makes electric commuter aircraft economical
The next major step in the development of electric flying will affect the class of commuter aircraft with up to 20 seats. Aerospace research institutes DLR and Bauhaus Luftfahrt have analysed the possibilities and potential of hybrid-electric 19-seaters. This revealed a surprisingly high potential for the use of such aircraft. And, yes, this also makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions.

Today, there are around 3,000 commuter class aircraft in service worldwide, with only just over a dozen new 19-seaters being delivered each year in the civil sector in recent years. In its study, the DLR Institute of Airports and Transportation examined a configuration that, with a few modifications, is closely based on the 19-seater Do-228 and, in particular, Jetstream 31 aircraft models flying today. In their design, the researchers modified the landing gear nacelles, which were extended above the wings to accommodate quickly replaceable battery blocks. "This allows us to keep the weight of the comparatively heavy batteries exactly where it is most convenient on the aircraft during take-off and landing - directly above the landing gear. Empty batteries can thus be changed quickly and easily at an airport," explains DLR project manager Wolfgang Grimme.

Limited by the weight of the batteries of 2 tons at a total take-off mass of 8.6 tons, the researchers assume in their concept a range of 200 kilometers, flown fully electrically. Depending on requirements, this can be extended to a range of more than 1000 kilometres using two range extenders in the form of a gas turbine that can be coupled and decoupled with the respective propeller. According to research by Bauhaus Luftfahrt, 56% of aircraft in this category worldwide typically fly distances of less than 200 kilometres and 83% fly less than 350 kilometres. "Therefore, a large part of the CO2 emissions in the field of commuter aircraft could already be avoided with the combination of fully electric flight and a comparatively small range extender," explains Annika Paul of Bauhaus Luftfahrt.

The range extender is also decisive for the safety of such an electrified aircraft, since in an emergency, for example if a more distant alternative airport has to be approached in bad weather conditions, it provides the necessary additional range. The range extender thus also enables a longer fully electric flight, as the battery does not need to be used for reserves.

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