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Electric Planes are the Future of Aviation

posted by Rugged Monitoring on 2020-07-23

Eelectric Planes - EV Powertrain Testing


Why the future is ‘Electric’ and 'Hybrid-Electric' Aircraft?

Traveling by air is still one of the most difficult challenges we face in combating climate change, as aviation constitutes 2% of the world’s carbon emissions. Several analysts state that with the increasing popularity of air travel, its consequence will be a more than 300% spike when compared to 2005 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by the aviation company. However, with electric vehicles are replacing gasoline vehicles, extensive research is being carried out on how to effectively electrify airplanes. 

This is a new industry that has recently gained legitimacy as a proper alternative to conventional aviation technology. The improvements made in this sector in such short period show the potential of a future where electric airplanes become the standard of aerial transportation.


Technological advancements in the field of Electric Aircrafts

There are multiple methods used to store and supply electricity for the electric planes such as a high-density battery, ultracapacitors, solar cells, power cables. New technologies such as fuel cells is also being experimented in electrification of airplanes. Fuel cells generates electricity with the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and could be more suitable for the aviation industry as they do not need charging from a power sources that is based on the ground.  

The advancement of the battery would not matter until there is an efficient EV motor for the plane to move. Last year, a new improved EV motor was developed by a leading manufacturer that had 350 horsepower which only weighed 110 pounds. This cost-effective EV motor could save the airline 10-50% of their operating costs as the fill bills would decrease considerably. 

Nevertheless, the advancements of the EV motor and battery cannot keep the plane in the air forever, so it needs to be charged and a new start-up has made a DC charging machine for an electric aircraft which delivers a charging power of 30 KW and it can handle voltage levels of 300 to 1000 volts. Similarly, there is a new prototype of an electric plane that has 21kWh battery and a 60-kilowatt electric engine that allows for an hour of flying time while covering almost 100 miles and it only takes an hour to recharge. This is all possible due to the efficiency of the traction motor and the battery combined with the fast charging capability. 

The range of a plane is also very crucial as it defines how far a plane can travel before it needs to refuel/recharge. With the latest available technologies, we can have an electric plane with a range of about 250 miles. And this range is expected to be doubled in next four years, as the new research and development is progressing in E-Mobility. Similarly, the longevity of the electric plane depends on the type of lithium-ion battery.


Why do electric planes need extensive EV Testing?

EV Design and Testing engineers face many challenges as they constantly try to improve the performance of the electric planes. Due to the stringent regulatory requirements and criticality of aircrafts, the EV testing must cover all possible test scenarios. The instrumentation engineers are developing several new mechanism and technologies for EV powertrain design and development. Thermal management of electric plane and its components need real-time and accurate thermal profiling. However, test and instrumentation engineers spend a lot of time on non-value activities such as:

  • Creating isolation for thermocouples that are installed at high voltage components
  • Compensating thermocouples for high electric and magnetic fields
  • Develop models for accurate temperature estimations
  • Fitting thermocouples at tiny spaces such as Power Modules

Most importantly, thermocouples cannot be used in all test conditions, especially at high speed and heavy load conditions.

Therefore, the engineers need advanced sensors that are safe at high voltages, take minimal time in test setup and usable in all test conditions. The sensors must be faster, accurate and repeatable under different test conditions. Extensive testing of powertrain components such as EV batteries, traction motors, EV Inverters and charging boards help in developing 100% safe and efficient electric airplane.

Fiber Optics Temperature Sensors and Monitors for EV Testing

Fiber Optic Temperature Sensors are the only sensor that can be used in all test conditions of EV Powertrain

Thanks to fiber optic sensing technology that allows safe and accurate testing at high electric, magnetic and chemical environments. Advancements in EV Powertrain technologies have been possible with the use of fiber optic temperature sensors in testing.

The fiber optic temperature sensors (FOTS) are ideal for testing at high voltage components of electric planes as they can withstand high electric and magnetic fields. The sensors are ultra-small with lower thermal mass and provide fast, accurate and reliable temperature measurement. 

The fiber optic temperature sensors are being used in the following testing applications in EV testing and thermal management:

  1. Traction Motor: Stator Winding Hot Spot, Rotor Temperature, HV Terminals Temperature
  2. EV Battery: Cell Core/Anode Thermal Profiling, Intercell temperature, HV Terminals Temperature
  3. EV Inverter/Power Electronics: Junction Temperature (IGBT/Diode), Capacitor Core Temperature, and HV Terminals Temperature 
  4. Charging Boards / Plugs: Junction Temperature (IGBT/Diode), Charging Pin thermal profiling

Rugged Monitoring’s EV Testing Solutions for Electric Airplane

Rugged Monitoring (RM) fiber optic temperature sensors and monitors are designed to meet accuracy and installation requirements of the electric vehicles testing. The sensors, LSENS-B, LSENS-T, LSENS-R,  are being used in measuring temperature of high voltage components such as EV battery, electric motor, charging port, high voltage connectors, EV inverters and power electronics. Our rugged monitors, R501 and O201 are designed to meet the test conditions of EV prototype. Also, RM has created proprietary software with intuitive user interfaces for remote visualization and configuration. The high speed CANBUS protocol is supported by the monitors for data integration with other test systems.