Modeling Electric Aircraft
Electrical and systems engineers from Rensselaer will develop simulation models to help researchers at the University of Illinois develop an all-electric aircraft, a project that recently received a $6 million grant from NASA.
Although improvements have been made to increase flight efficiency over the past few decades, the continued dependency on hydrocarbon fuels makes aircraft operation costs volatile. It also means commercial aviation will continue to contribute a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the national and international transportation industry.
In an effort to address these challenges, the team is looking toward more sustainable energy sources for aviation and the introduction of new electrically driven propulsion systems for commercial aircraft systems.
“A plane has multiple systems inside of it,” says Luigi Vanfretti, associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering. “You need to have a way to understand the interaction of the systems and, in an integrated way, you need to optimize them together.”
Vanfretti’s ALSETLab, which stands for Analysis Laboratory for Synchrophasor and Electrical Energy Technology, specializes in complex modeling simulations of electrical systems. His focus on simulation models has led to multiple collaborations with other academic institutions, government organizations, and industry. The work his team does, Vanfretti says, helps researchers understand how systems work together and if new developments will be successful long before they’re physically tested.
This new electric aircraft initiative, led by Phillip Ansell, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is called CHEETA — the Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft.
Through his work with CHEETA, Vanfretti will support the development of a fully electric aircraft platform that uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen as an energy storage method.