Holistic Assessment of Electric Flight


The electrification of aircraft propulsion opens up a new dimension for the design and operation of aircraft. The extended use of electrical components offers potential to reduce operating costs as well as the ecological footprint and noise.This applies to a future (partial) electrification of aircraft configurations available today, but also enables new new mobility options, such as the operation of urban and regional air taxis.

The current state of research and technology makes clear that the electrification of aircraft propulsion is not easy and not always meaningful. Rather, its justification must be individually proven for different system architectures and aircraft configurations across all aircraft sizes. However, the hypothesis exists that the classical architectures and operating processes of aviation represent only a local optimum, alongside which there are other optimums that can be made accessible through the introduction or application of new technologies, especially electrification of the powertrain. Accordingly, academia and aircraft industry have enthusiastically taken up and explored the new design dimensions of e-mobility.

However, the studies available to date are limited in their analyses to only partial aspects of electrified aviation. A holistic analysis of the potential of electric flying has not yet been tackled. This is precisely where the GNOSIS project comes in. Following a structured selection and combination of technologies made possible by the electrification of aircraft propulsion, a comprehensive evaluation is carried out at both aircraft vehicle and air transport system level. The evaluation includes not only the spatial dimension such as vehicle, airport, airspace, material and energy supply and life cycle analysis but also legal aspects auch as certifiability and aviation law, which means that in addition to the performance and impact parameters of the new system, estimated or predicted boundary conditions are also included in the evaluation. Five categories were identified in advance for this evaluation. These include Global Emissions as an indicator of climate impact and Local Emissions, which are intended to provide conclusions about the impact on local air quality. Furthermore, the new aircraft concepts are to be compared and evaluated with regard to their noise emissions. Particular importance is also on the evaluation of cost aspects in order to identify business opportunities and challenges for the integration of electrified aircraft into existing fleets. As a last criterion, which is however of equal importance as the aspects mentioned above, the safety of the newly designed configuration will be analysed, since for reasons of user acceptance alone, at least the same safety standards as for conventional aircraft must be guaranteed.

The technical modelling and simulation of the electrified aircraft configurations will be integrated into a life cycle analysis, in which the entire life phase of the aircraft from production and operation to disposal or recycling will be considered. The life cycle analysis differentiates between vehicle and energy sources. A further distinction is made between ecological and economic aspects of the aircraft life cycle. The assessment is initially carried out for aircraft with 19 seats and later also for aircraft with 9 and 50 seats. This will be done for the two assessment horizons in 2025 and 2050, making it possible to examine both the effects that can be achieved in the near future and those that can be achieved in the longer term, and to derive recommendations for setting future research and development priorities.

The expertise required for the project is being combined in a consortium of 13 partners. These include:

  • Institute of Aerospace Systems (ILR) at RWTH Aachen University
  • Institute of Jet Propulsion and Turbomachinery (IST) at RWTH Aachen Univsersity
  • Institute of Structiral Mechanics and Lightweight Design (SLA) at RWTH Aachen University
  • Insitute of Combustion Engines (VKA) and Center for Mobile Propulsion (cmp) at RWTH Aachen
  • Bauhaus Luftfahrt e.V.
  • Chair of Computer Science VIII - Aerospace Information Technology at University of Würzburg
  • Institute of Jet Propulsion and Turbo Machinery (IFAS) at Technical University of Braunschweig
  • Institute for Aircraft Systems Engineering (FST) at Hamburg University of Technology
  • Institute for Aerodynamics and Gas Dynamics (IAG) at University of Stuttgart
  • Institute for Aircraft Design (IFB) at University of Stuttgart
  • Department of Material Flow Management and Resource Management (SuR) at Technical University of Darmstadt
  • Institut of Flight Systems and Automatic Control (FSR) at Technical University of Darmstadt
  • Chair of Energy Storage Systems (ESS) at Technical University of Dresden

Rolls Royce and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) support the project.

Project period: 05/2020 - 04/2023

Supported by the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the Aeronautics Research Program VI (LuFo VI-1); Grantor: German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. - DLR) with funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie - BMWi)

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