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NASA funds work on hybrid electric aircraft

13 July, 2011

NASA is funding a group of US companies to work on designs for superconducting motors and generators for use in future hybrid-electric commercial aircraft. This includes a $900,000 grant to a Florida company, Advanced Magnet Labs (AML), to model high-power superconducting machines such as turbo-electric propulsion fans.

The aim is to lay the groundwork for a future generation of aircraft that will be more efficient, less polluting and quieter. The key is to develop electric machines that are as compact and powerful as today’s gas turbines. Instead of using turbines to drive turbofans, the future aircraft will use superconducting machines to drive ducted fans.

During the three-year project, AML expects to build working models of superconducting machines. NASA envisages 300-passenger electric airliners taking off by 2035, powered by pairs of superconducting generators driving 15 superconducting turbofan engines. The aircraft, burning jet fuel or hydrogen, would emit 70% less pollution than today’s jet aircraft.

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