Airbus and Siemens join forces to develop hybrid electric planes

Siemens new, powerful aircraft electric motor. Image courtesy of Siemens
Five kilowatts per kilogram is the power/weight ratio of a new electric motor from the Electric Aircraft Unit at Siemens Corporate Technology - image courtesy of Siemens

Airbus and Siemens have signed a collaboration agreement to work on hybrid electric propulsion systems with the aim of creating small hybrid planes that will be partly powered by electricity.

The European plane maker and the German-owned engineering firm have joined forces to launch a major joint project towards the electrification of aviation. The goal of the partnership is to demonstrate the technical feasibility of various hybrid electric propulsion systems by 2020.

Both companies have secured a combined team of around 200 employees to develop the project, with the aim of producing small passenger jets propelled by the hybrid electric propulsion systems by 2030.

The companies believe that hybrid electric propulsion systems can significantly reduce fuel consumption and noise of aircraft.

The future hybrid electric powered aircraft will also help to meet Europe’s ambitious emissions targets, which aim for a 75% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050.

Multiple prototype hybrid electric planes

Airbus Group and Siemens plan to jointly develop prototypes for propulsion systems with power classes ranging from a few 100 kilowatts up to 10 or more megawatts. The prototypes will help develop future hybrid electric models of aircraft below 100 seats as well as helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles.

The challenge of producing hybrid electric powered planes for commercial use is a task welcomed by Airbus Group CEO, Tom Enders.

“Electric and electric hybrid flight represent some of the biggest industrial challenges of our time, aiming at zero-emissions aviation,” Mr Enders said.

“The progress we have achieved in this arena, together with our industrial and government partners, in only a few years is breathtaking, culminating in last year’s channel crossing of our all-electric E-Fan aircraft.

“We believe that by 2030 passenger aircraft below 100 seats could be propelled by hybrid propulsion systems and we are determined to explore this possibility together with world-class partners like Siemens.”

Siemens President and CEO Joe Kaeser said the collaboration with Airbus Group would signal a new era of electric powered transport.

“By entering the field of highly innovative aircraft propulsion technology, we’re opening a new chapter in E-Mobility,” he said.

“Collaboration with Airbus Group will create new perspectives for our company and open us up even more to disruptive innovation.”

Previous Airbus and Siemens collaborations

Airbus Group and Siemens previously worked with Austrian company Diamond Aircraft to create a hybrid aircraft in 2011.

The E-Fan all-electric general aviation training aircraft on display at the Berlin Air Show in 2014 - image courtesy of Airbus
The E-Fan all-electric general aviation training aircraft on display at the Berlin Air Show in 2014 – image courtesy of Airbus

Airbus Group has also been working on its electric powered two-seater electric aircraft, the E-Fan, since 2014. After making its test flight at France’s Mérignac Airport in April 2014, the E-Fan crossed the English Channel during a demonstration flight on July 10, 2015.

The E-Fan was powered exclusively by lithium-ion batteries and took 37 minutes to cross the Channel. The E-Fan became the first twin-engine electric plane to take off under its own power and then negotiate the English Channel.

Working with Airbus Group, Siemens is determined to establish hybrid electric propulsion systems for aircraft as a future business.

Meanwhile Airbus Group is looking to accelerate the extended capabilities required for making system technologies needed for electric powered planes.

Airbus Group and Siemens will continue to work together with their current partners for small aircraft with fewer than 20 seats. The companies have also agreed to collaborate exclusively in selected development areas.