Aircraft of the future are set to adopt more electrical systems to replace the hydraulic, pneumatic and mechanical technologies that currently drive systems such as fuel handling, cabin pressurisation and actuation. However, to meet this need the electrical generation systems currently in use on aircraft are growing in weight and size, restricting the transition to greater electrification to larger aircraft.
Now, a five-year engineering research project is set to extend the application of electric technology to a wider range of aircraft. This project will develop smaller and lighter high-capacity electrical power generation systems, enabling more on-board technology to run on electricity on a wider range of aircraft to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Safran Electrical and Power UK, Dr Xibo Yuan of the University of Bristol has just taken up the post of Senior Research Fellow in Advanced Aircraft Power Generation Systems. Yuan’s research aims to increase the output of high-density electric generators, designing and prototyping new on-board generators.
The research will include new power electronics devices that have only become available in recent years, such as wide-bandgap semiconductors. While the relatively high costs of the new technologies have prohibited their use in other appliances, they are well suited to aircraft where they can offer large savings in energy usage, size and weight.
“Using new power electronics devices that can switch on and off very fast, really reduces energy loss,” explains Yuan. “I’m exploring wide-bandgap based converters that can enable high-frequency drives and operate at higher temperatures. Ultimately this will push the boundaries of power density and efficiency, allowing more and more of an aircraft to run on electric power to really reduce fuel burn and the emissions associated with it.”