Superconducting aerospace propulsion: collaborating to raise the technology readiness level

Dec. 1 9:45-10:30

*Rodney A. Badcock1
Victoria University of Wellington1

New Zealand has long been recognised as a global leader in renewable energy integration and holding deep expertise in commercial application of superconducting technology. The New Zealand government has put in place a strategy that mirrors this; to be net carbon-zero by 2050 and invested in cooperative technology development programmes that will accelerate international development.

Transportation is the largest source of non-agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from the country – domestic aviation accounts for 10% of our emissions and long-haul travel maybe more. We depend on aviation, our exports depend on shipping, and our internal freight relies on trucks. We will use electrical energy to reduce our carbon footprint. The good news is that New Zealand is unique in its electricity production – over 80% of our electrical energy is generated from renewable sources, and we have plenty of scope to increase it to 100% using wind, solar, and geothermal.

Electrification of aviation propulsion has the highest potential of drastically reducing emissions in New Zealand. Our domestic (Sounds Air) and international (Air New Zealand) are both committed to passenger electric flight introduction.The NZ government are supporting this and making the regulatory framework available to act as an international test-bed.
The real challenge is for larger transport aircraft with more than 100 seats; conventional technology cannot provide the power-to-weight required to electrify at this scale. Superconducting, and cryogenic, machines may provide a solution: they are small and light, relative to their power output. New Zealand has been working on superconductors since the 1980s and researchers in this field have recently teamed up with NZ’s leading researchers in power electronics and cryogenics systems, and formed strategic international research partnerships.

We will present an overview of the multidisciplinary research in this NZ national programme towards electric flight realization. We will examine the technology integration within superconducting machines for aircraft using novel technology such as flux pump exciters, low ac-loss windings, wide bandgap electronics and integrated cryogenic systems. We will present an overview of the technology development, implications and how this research is globally relevant.

This work was supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) under Strategic Science Investment Fund “Advanced Energy Technology Platforms” contract RTVU2004.

Keywords: superconducting machines, electric aviation, cryo-electronics, cryocooling