With electric cars a growing reality on the ground, a small Aussie tech company has joined the global race to take the technology to the skies so people can zip around in electric-powered planes.
Queensland-based magniX is weeks away from testing the first high power density electric motor to be designed and built in Australia, a prototype the company hopes to use in light aircraft within a few years.
While aviation electric motors are still in their infancy, they have the ability to slash greenhouse gas emissions emitted by aircraft and halve the $200 billion fuel bill for the world’s airlines.
“There’s a real push towards electrification and using air travel as a way of transporting things or people from A to B as cities become larger and more congested,” managing director Jason Chaffey told AAP on Monday.
“One of the downsides with the airline industry is because planes are emitting greenhouse gases at high altitude there’s an amplifying effect on the environment .
“The number of grams of carbon per mile travelled is something like 100 times that of a car or bus, so from an environmental point of view that’s quite significant.”
MagniX is one of a handful of companies around the world developing electric motors for aircraft, along with NASA, Siemens and Airbus.
Siemens successfully trialled a 50kg electric motor in a light aircraft in Germany in July 2016, while a year earlier Airbus flew a single-seat aircraft powered by an electric motor across the English Channel.
MagniX’s prototype, which is being developed in conjunction with the University of Queensland and aerospace firm Ferra, is also 50kg and produces 250 kilowatts of power.
By comparison, a Ferrari sports car is powered by a motor about three times that weight.
The electric motor will be put through its paces in terms of speed and reliability during laboratory tests that simulate an aircraft taking off and landing.
Data used from the tests will be used to develop a model for a light aircraft trial in 2020.
The same information will also help power the development of magniX’s first superconducting motor, a much larger version of the current prototype to be developed for use in large passenger aircraft in about a decade.
Dr Chaffey believes with the push towards electric cars and planes Australia has the ability to create a whole new manufacturing industry.
“With the automotive industry gone now, this is a way of getting back into that manufacturing game,” he said.
“We have the skills and expertise.”
MagniX is already in talks with airlines and manufacturers about its motors.
“Many are still getting their head around how it will work and the reliability of the technology,” Dr Chaffey said.
“It’s just the start of the journey but we are in at the table talking to them.”