Rolls-Royce buys Siemens’ electric plane arm

Rolls-Royce has agreed to buy the electric aerospace arm of Siemens, a move that could enable the take-off of electrification in the sector.

Aviation connects people and goods across the globe efficiently; it links our world together. But at the same time, climate change has become a clear concern for our society and emissions from planes are a contributor to this.

Revenues of large companies in the aerospace industry are growing - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Aerospace manufacturers are becoming more sustainable – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

With Paris Airshow well underway, and many new innovations surfacing for the aerospace industry, including Airbus’ new jet aimed to rival the grounded Boeing 737 Max, how high is electrification and sustainability on aerospace manufacturers to-do list?

“Manufacturers are investing heavily in new advanced technology that can reduce the carbon emissions from aviation,” Paul Everitt, chief executive at ADS told The Manufacturer.

“What we will likely see first will be electric-hybrid aircraft using both electric motors and traditional jet fuel engines (possibly powered using sustainable aviation fuels) to make substantial efficiencies in fuel use for both passenger and freight aviation,” he adds.

Rolls-Royce boards eAircraft

“To support the rising demand for air travel while achieving CO2 emissions targets, the aviation industry is developing increasingly environmentally friendly technologies and practices,” says Paul Stein, CTO at Rolls-Royce.

“We believe that pure electric, or all-electric, propulsion will power smaller aircraft in the foreseeable future, while larger aircraft will rely upon hybrid electric solutions that combine electrification with evolutions of the gas turbine,” he adds.

Rolls-Royce has agreed to acquire Siemens’ eAircraft business in a deal that could push electrification forward in the ‘third era’ of aviation, with the purchase expected to be completed later this year.

The eAircraft business, based in Germany and Hungary, employs around 180 specialist electrical designers and engineers who have been developing a range of all-electric and hybrid electric propulsion systems for the aerospace industry.

Rolls-Royce is building a high-performance electric aircraft - image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce is building an electric aircraft as part of its ACCEL project – image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.

Stein adds, “The electrification of flight is just one part of Rolls-Royce’s commitment to making aviation more sustainable: we are continuing to increase the fuel efficiency of our gas turbines; encouraging the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable aviation fuels; and pursuing the electrification of aviation.”

However, such a big transition for industry presents major obstacles. ADS’ Everitt says, “There are significant challenges that mean we do not expect to see all-electric powered flight for large commercial aircraft in the short-term, and major developments in battery technology will be necessary before they are both powerful and light enough to power and be carried on aircraft.”

Last year Rolls-Royce unveiled an EVTOL concept, which could be powered by a hybrid system. The company is also developing an all-electric demonstrator aircraft, as part of the ACCEL initiative that will attempt to break the world speed record for all-electric flight.

Sustainable aviation

Targets set by the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe call for a 75% reduction in CO2, a 90% drop in NOX and a 65% decrease in noise by 2050 for the aviation industry, compared with year 2000 levels.

Speaking at the Paris Airshow in Le Bourget, the CTOs from Airbus, GE Aviation, Rolls Royce, Safran and UTC, plus Boeing and Dassault Aviation, set out the technological elements to hit ambitious targets like this and make the sector more sustainable.

“The UK’s aerospace sector is committed to playing its part in achieving the target of net zero carbon emissions. The statement from the Chief Technology Officers at seven of the world’s leading aerospace manufacturers shows how seriously this challenge is being taken and the vital technological development already underway to achieve it,” says Everitt.

Three major elements to sustainable aviation

  1. Continue to develop aircraft and engine design and technology to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.
  2. Support the commercialisation of sustainable, alternate aviation fuels.
  3. Develop new aircraft and propulsion technology and accelerate technologies that will enable the ‘third generation’ of aviation.