Flight Goes Green: 1 MW Lightweight Aviation Electric Engine Unveiled in the U.S.
The field of electric aviation is not only plagued with battery-related issues. Producing lightweight, powerful electric motors has been a significant challenge for aviation designers. Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proposed a solution to this conundrum. Their electric engine promises a power output of 1 MW at a weight of approximately 58 kg. With this, electric aviation is set to soar both literally and metaphorically.
NASA calculations indicate that specific power for medium-haul aircraft and, generally, high-lift aircraft should not be less than 13 kW/kg. The motor presented by MIT engineers promises a specific power of 17 kW/kg, which considerably surpasses NASA’s recommendation. Unfortunately, the new motor is not yet available in its fully assembled form. The developers have only tested its individual components so far.
The new engine’s construction is essentially an inside-out version of a traditional electric motor. The rotor surrounds the stator rather than being inside it. The rotor’s foundation is a titanium drum with permanent magnets fastened to its inner walls. The new motor’s stator is a steel cylinder with a spiked surface, located inside the rotor. The winding is laid on the spikes in a unique way.
Currents in the winding are controlled by a complex power electronics system made up of 30 custom-made “printed circuit boards”. This synchronized current supply with drum rotation enables the motor to achieve record-breaking RPMs. Such a design significantly reduced the need for massive rotors and stators, thus greatly lightening the motor’s weight.
Heat dissipation from the stator has been ingeniously designed. The stator is mounted on a heatsink with numerous through-holes. These holes appear honeycomb-like from the end and are best printed on a 3D printer. The rotor’s rotation creates an airflow within the motor, expelling it outward. The presented engine is expected to generate around 50 kW of heat at full 1 MW power. It is claimed that the proposed solution will be able to dissipate as much heat as that “from 500 100-Watt incandescent lamps in a small beer barrel-sized volume.”
If such electric motors become accessible to aviation designers, the future landscape of aviation will undoubtedly change. Fully electric airplanes could sport completely different designs. For instance, instead of relying on a couple of large and powerful engines, they could utilize several smaller motors on the wing’s leading edges or even on the fuselage. Moreover, this era could dawn much sooner than the arrival of ultra-capacity batteries, with hybrid systems powered by hydrogen or ammonia cells paving the way. The only missing piece of this puzzle was the electric engine, which now appears to be close to realization.
- I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.
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