Electrification & Sustainability

Five Universities Researching, Developing Innovative New Aerospace Technology

Over the last year, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on every segment of the aviation industry, many companies and government agencies have continued to invest in funding large-scale research and development programs at the university level.


Here, Aviation Today highlights five universities that are participating in research and development programs of groundbreaking next-generation aerospace technologies.


Swansea University Becomes Electric Aircraft Training Grounds Under Extended Faradair Aerospace Partnership

Swansea University will have 30 engineers dedicated to the development of Faradair Aerospace’s next-generation hybrid electric aircraft. (Faradair)

Swansea University has extended its partnership with U.K.-based hybrid-electric aircraft startup Faradair Aerospace that established its Bay Campus as a training ground for engineers and interns that can fulfill future roles in developing large-scale aircraft.

Faradair started the initial development of its Bio Electric Hybrid Aircraft (BEHA) project in 2014, with the long-term goal of producing the BEHA M1H, an 18-passenger unpressurized cabin aircraft that can double as a cargo-carrying plane. Swansea has been a part of Faradair’s BEHA project since 2017 and now plans to assemble a team of 30 engineers based at its Bay Campus dedicated to the BEHA project by the end of the year.

“The partnership we have established, providing aerodynamic design support to Faradair for their BEHA aircraft, is an exciting opportunity for Swansea University. It will allow us to use our world-leading aerodynamic modeling, high-performance computing, and design optimization technologies on an aircraft set to transform the world of civil aviation,” Dr. Ben Evans, Associate Professor in Aerospace Engineering at Swansea University, said in a Jan. 25 press release.

“The BEHA will be a clean and quiet aircraft for the 21st century that could have a major impact to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation whilst better connecting smaller, regional airfields across the UK and beyond. It also provides Swansea University’s students with an amazing chance to work alongside an innovative company and great graduate employment opportunities,” he added.

In December, Faradair added several new major companies with aerospace and defense technology industry manufacturing experience including global manufacturer and service provider Honeywell, and Redmond, Washington-based MagniX, which has matured its electric motor technology in recent years among others.

An ambitious goal mentioned in Swansea’s release is their intention to help Faradair manufacture 300 BEHA aircraft between 2026 and 2030. According to the release, these would include 150 built in a firefighting configuration, another 75 as “quick change” passenger-to-cargo aircraft, and the final 50 as pure freight carrying hybrid-electric aircraft.

The final 25 aircraft will be demonstrated in non-civilian government roles, including logistics, border and fisheries patrol, and drug interdiction, the university said in the release.

During an online appearance at the web-hosted 2020 Farnborough International Air Show, Faradair proclaimed its official move to Duxford, in Cambridgeshire.


University of Birmingham to Develop Aviation Fuel Cell Stack Concept

U.K.-based University of Birmingham was one of three universities selected to participate in the GKN Aerospace-lead hydrogen propulsion program “H2GEAR,” according to a Jan. 29 press release.

Under the H2GEAR initiative, GKN aims to develop regional air transport level aircraft powered by the conversion of liquid hydrogen to electricity within a fuel cell system capable of powering the aircraft. At the University of Birmingham’s Center for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research, students will participate in the development of a future aviation fuel cell stack concept.

“The future stack will be based on the Novel Intermediate Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (IT-PEFC) technology being developed at the University of Birmingham. The IT-PEFC stack will offer an increase in power density, improved performance, and simplified balance of plant,” GKN said in the release.

The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Is contributing $37 million in funding to the project, with GKN and other industrial partners also contributing respective investments. Newcastle University and the University of Manchester are also selected to participate in the H2GEAR project.

“We will be offering considerable increases in power density and reduced weight, in an attempt at making fuel cell systems a viable option for zero-emission air travel. We are excited that our group has been recognized as a key technology provider and will be forging a new link between the Birmingham Energy Institute and Midlands Energy Research Accelerator with the field of aerospace R&D,” Professor Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, of the Birmingham Energy Institute, said in a Jan. 28 press release.



Embry Riddle Teams with VerdeGo Aero to Reduce Noise Produced by Electric Aircraft Propellers

Verdego Aero is developing a mechanical demonstration of their new technology at Embry-Riddle’s Research Park.

Verdego Aero established a new partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Research Park, according to a Dec. 4, 2020 press release.

VerdeGo is already a tenant at ERAU’s Research Park and will use the new partnership to further develop a patent-pending technology that was created through the efforts of an Embry-Riddle graduate student, Lenny Gartenberg (now a Northrop Grumman engineer). ERAU Aerospace Engineering professor and Eagle Flight Research Center Director Dr. Richard “Pat” Anderson, and research engineer Dr. Borja Martos also helped develop the technology.

By automatically adjusting the pitch of rotating propeller blades, the technology being developed under the partnership would also be able to adjust motor torque to maintain constant thrust, VerdeGo Aero CEO Eric Bartsch said in the release. Embry Riddle developed the technology and is licensing it to VerdeGo Aero under a technology transfer process that the university periodically participates in various segments and organizations across the global aviation industry.

During its fiscal year 2020, Embry Riddle’s Technology Transfer Office managed 11 similar invention disclosures involving 20 inventors and five patent applications.

“This is a great example of how university research can be translated into products that have real-world impacts. Our students benefit from the initial research in a lab, learning the process of innovation,” Embry-Riddle’s Dr. Stephanie Miller, executive director for Technology Transfer and Research Park initiatives (Legal Department), said in the release. “Now that the intellectual property has been licensed to a company, jobs can be created and supported while the company continues to develop the proof-of-concept into a marketable product. In the end, the revenue from product sales that comes back to the university can be used to fund future research, restarting the cycle of innovation.”

VerdeGo Aero has given no specific timeline on completing the commercialization of the technology but expects to develop a mechanical demonstration of the noise mitigation technology to be showcased at the Research Park.


MIT Aviation Lab’s New Method for Reducing Aircraft NOx Emissions


“If you want to get to a net-zero aviation sector, this is a potential way of solving the air pollution part of it, which is significant, and in a way that’s technologically quite viable,” Barrett said in a Jan. 14 MIT press release.

The overall goal of the project is to develop a hybrid-electric emissions control system that borrows elements of similar technology used in diesel trucks. Barrett – along with co-authors Prakash Prashanth, Raymond Speth, Sebastian Eastham, and Jayant Sabnins – envisions a hybrid electric aircraft emissions control system that uses ammonia-based pollution-reducing agents to clean NOx generated by the gas turbines.

According to the MIT release, aircraft emit a steady stream of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere at cruising altitude. Nitrogen oxides are considered a major source of air pollution associated with asthma, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disorders, according to the paper.

In the paper, the researchers describe this emissions control system as “a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system that was previously infeasible when mass flow rates in the core were an order of magnitude larger than heavy-duty diesel engines for road based applications.”

“We find that employing an ammonia-based SCR results in an approximately 95% reduction in NOx emissions in exchange for a ∼0.5% increase in block fuel burn,” the researchers note in the paper.

The team is now working on designs for a “zero-impact” airplane that flies without emitting NOx and other chemicals like climate-altering carbon dioxide.





France Unveils National Quantum Computing Plan at University of Paris-Sarclay

In the super conductivity research lab at the University of Paris-Saclay, Thales engineers are trying to understand how to develop a quantum antenna that could lead to a drastic reduction in airplane antenna size. This picture was taken during a November 2019 visit to University of Paris-Sarclay by Avionics International and other media outlets.

The University of Paris-Sarclay (Université Paris-Saclay) hosted French President Emmanuel Macron’s unveiling of a five-year €1.8 billion plan to establish France as a global leader in the race to develop quantum computing in the near future.

Macron’s speech, live-streamed by Elysse on Jan. 21, was fittingly hosted at the university’s interdisciplinary center for quantum computing technologies that was first created in November 2019.

“Quantum strategy is of paramount importance,” said Macron said during the speech. “Like artificial intelligence, microelectronics, health, energy and space technologies, quantum technologies are among the few keys to the future that France absolutely must have in hand.”

University of Paris-Saclay’s Quantum research center features programs dedicated to nine different areas of quantum computing elements including simulation, sensing, algorithms, and nanotechnologies among others. One of the promising aviation-related quantum computing technologies under development at the center includes a quantum aircraft antenna the size of a human finger, as pictured below.

A look up close at the prototype Thales quantum aircraft antenna.

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