The electrification of aviation is a crucial step in the decarbonization of our world. In the first half of our discussion, Anders Forslund, CEO of Heart Aerospace, walked us through the steps to come up with a working electric motor with built-in batteries and an optimized propeller, a key step on the road to building a an engine with 19 seats and 400 kilometers, regional airliner. The pragmatic choices he and his team have made and continue to make are all aimed at securing regulatory approval to fly quickly, so that electric passenger planes can carry people in the second half of this decade.
The conversation continued with a discussion on alternative fuels. Breakthrough Ventures is funding both Heart Aerospace and ZeroAvia, a hydrogen transmission startup that is pursuing a different route to get into the air with low emissions.
There are a lot of competing technologies out there, and that’s how it should be, according to Forslund. It is a sign of strength. He quotes Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings: “Do not be in too much of a hurry to inflict death in judgment. Even the wisest cannot see all ends “- and agrees with the sentiment. Although he and I agree that the electric battery is ideally suited for short and medium-haul flights, covering all flights on the continent except for the vast expanse of Russia, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily right.
And that doesn’t solve the problem of long-haul flight, a really difficult problem with warming three times as high as CO2 emitted during flight alone because of the added challenges of contrails and nitrous oxides.
Forslund sees two major threads in the aerospace community. A) Do what spacecraft do and use cryogenic hydrogen. B) Do what electric cars do.
We took a minute to think about Elon Musk’s suborbital passenger solution for long-haul flights as well, something I once calculated would have around 60% of the CO2 per passenger as scheduled flights. Completely solving long-haul aviation will take 40 years, but the start must be short-haul, where Heart Aerospace works today. Incrementalism will take us there with one or more technologies.
Forslund cites the altitude record for airplanes held by a solar electric airplane, because battery-powered electric airplanes do not depend on oxygen to combine with fuel, as one of the reasons he views the electric battery as the best choice. We don’t get into the energy density of batteries, but I have covered this topic enough times to know that virtually anyone who opposes batteries for transportation quickly got it wrong. The first article prompted a comment from a pseudonymous guest pointing to a European analyst who supports hydrogen, in which the analyst makes glaring mistakes to “prove” that the electric battery will not work, which I will probably write soon. .
But Forslund points out that planes are near the limit of our organizational capacity, and rockets are at the limit. Her dad had books with people living in orbit now, but that’s not what happened. Aerospace is something countries struggle with.
It refers to Kelly johnsonera, the space race and the SR71 as being a period of radical experimentation and chief engineers who had significant authority. In contrast, today we have opted for a structure and established an aerospace supply chain. From his perspective, we’re not creating new chief engineers like Johnson, and if you want new tech ready in 2040, you’ve got to have someone like that in their 30s to make it through.
The conversation turns to the creation of new Internet technologies and their risk reduction. Forslund has spent a lot of time in the virtual world, working in simulation environments and vendor-provided tools, starting with math and going through various simulations. He spent much of his PhD in Product Lifecycle Management in the area of digital twins. At each step of the process, errors are introduced.
He quotes the 2011 Oberkampf article on quantification of uncertainty in scientific modeling as something key to what he is trying to address, and also cites Tufte’s analysis of the 2003 shuttle disaster, where Powerpoint played a key role in chess. They explain the reasons why Heart Aerospace spends a lot of time building real, physical things.
The problem is communication more than engineering in many cases. Real reality is more immersive than virtual reality, and the physical is more communicative to more people than the virtual.
And so, let’s move on to the $ 35 million Series A funding that Heart Aerospace recently closed. Seed funding kept the electric transmission running, but more physical milestones are on the way. $ 35 million is of course not enough to get commercial planes off the ground. Forslund’s benchmarking and bottom-up estimate arrives at a figure of around $ 500 million to get to early-stage production and the first planes in the air, but Heart Aerospace will need to hit its marks in both. next few years to unlock this level of funding.
To this end, current funding targets two key physical prototypes. The first is a 1: 5 scale rc plane, something he admits is going to be a problem for concentration. Every time someone brings a drone or an RC plane to the office, everyone turns into kids. This triggers a discussion on the issue of the appropriate scale for airframe prototypes, as my evaluations of Google Makani’s 29kW airborne wind generator prototype clearly showed that it was too small to scale down. physical risks for their next 600 kW stage. By volume quarter scale standard, something the RC ES19 falls short of, this could have been a problem.
But Forslund and his team have nothing to prove about the seaworthiness of an over-the-wing bus that is essentially a small Dash 7 with electric motors. This is a completely standard airframe, and everyone knows it flies very well, assuming you have the wings in the right place etc. It is a safe space. Things that require risk reduction seem silly, like how to fold a wing flap over the nacelle, something that requires 3-dimensional thinking and visualization.
The aim of the company is to build a critical security system, designed to have a loss of life for a billion hours of operation, and many risks remain. Heart Aerospace has a small and rapidly growing team with many open positions to reduce these risks. He turns into a systems integrator, trying to build an aircraft as standardized as possible, with components and technologies that have been proven successful on similar aircraft with legacy transmissions.
They began work on an iron / copper bird, a large-scale physical cell that stays on the ground, but allows for the integration and testing of all mechanical and electronic systems. A key benefit of electric motors is that they can actually mount the nacelles and motors on the plane, and run them in place without propellers or a manufacturing load. For traditional fuel planes, the engines have to be in a separate room due to noise and air quality issues, but electric motors don’t have any issues. The Heart team will be able to stand next to the bird with the motors running at 2MW without worry.
Again, the problems they solve are relatively trivial. Are the wire bundles long enough? Is something crimped when objects open and close? But at the end of the process, they will be able to be clear in their communications with the supplier who will provide all of the components such as lights, avionics, and de-icing. The latter was previously done by bleed air systems, but luckily it has moved to electric defrost systems in recent years, so they can incorporate something that works for this problem as well. They’ve launched Requests for Information (RFIs) to global manufacturers, and it’s a treat to open them up and find out what cool things are already out there.
The company is already quite advanced and hopes to be able to show the iron / copper bird at work next year and arrive at the complete architecture. At this point, they will be able to submit RFPs with precise specifications to manufacturers and have manufacturers’ representatives go through and around the bird to clarify any ambiguity. Probably the first system to work, their “Hello world” will be external flashing lights.
They create a physical twin, not just a digital twin. That’s not to say that they don’t make digital twins and consider them useful for what they’re good at, but they understand the limitations and failure modes of relying too heavily on them, something. which I explored with one of my construction companies.
While the conversation was great, our time together inevitably came to an end. As always when closing a CleanTech Talk, I asked Forslund to think about what he would say to CleanTechnica global audience. His response was thoughtful and inspiring.
“The world was built by people not much smarter than you. We got Fridays for Future because people felt helpless in the face of climate change. At some point you have to look at yourself and realize that “Hey, I have a toolkit and some skills to be able to do something about this”. I’m so lucky to be born in the part of the world that I have, to have free education, to have scholarships, to be in a place in my life where I can risk everything. You will never feel like you are going to build the next thing, but you have to start. It’s a long marathon and you will learn along the way.
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