Honeywell studies more-electric engines

 - January 30, 2007, 11:09 AM

One of the technologies that Honeywell says promises to revolutionize aircraft design is something known as “more electric architecture” (MEA). This “breakthrough” technology will replace much of today’s heavy and maintenance-intensive pneumatic and hydraulic fluid and power systems, enabling OEMs to design aircraft with lighter, simpler and more reliable “electric” systems instead of miles of tubing, pumps and valves.

The overall goal behind MEA is to produce more effective aircraft designs that do not rely heavily on “bleed” engine technologies, according to Honeywell v-p of strategic technology Bob Smith. Traditional engines produce thrust and pneumatic, hydraulic and electric power, but “more electric” engines produce only thrust and electricity.

While it lacks the bleed-air taps of traditional turbofans, an MEA engine will need to produce more electricity since smaller electric motors would drive pneumatic, hydraulic and other mechanical systems.

MEA increases the overall efficiency of aircraft performance and energy use by synchronizing, balancing and matching energy use with utility loads such as pressurization, cooling and anti-icing and electric sources and loads–thanks to Honeywell’s “smart sensing” secondary solid-state distribution system.

So far, Honeywell has developed and demonstrated critical technical capabilities to deploy MEA on airliners, including high- torque electric starter/generators, electrically driven air compressors capable of pressurizing large cabins and optimized air-cycle machines. The engine manufacturer also intends to supply the necessary variable-frequency and DC generators; high-voltage distribution systems; and high-power, high-speed motors.

However, the MEA revolution will not happen overnight. “It will take time for MEA to transition in the aviation industry,” Smith told AIN. “The next three new airliner designs will employ some of the MEA systems we’ve developed. But it will be at least 15 years until we see a real all-electric airliner. However, an all-electric business aircraft might come sooner, since there are many new platforms under development.”

According to Honeywell, the Airbus A380 is using MEA technology, as will the Boeing 787. Additionally, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter also employs MEA technology in the form of Honeywell’s power thermal management system, which combines the functions of auxiliary power, environmental controls and emergency power.
Looking forward, technology maturation will continue to create opportunities for more electric aircraft architecture improvements. As MEA technologies advance, the company said, smaller components will be used, reducing costs and improving operating efficiencies.

Honeywell said it will also continue to invest in these technologies and work with its partners on feasibility studies to find new-generation technologies that will provide step-function change.  

As emissions constraints become more stringent and power generation technologies advance, the long-term goal is an all-electric “no-bleed” aircraft, with MEA being an evolutionary step. While the transition to such an aircraft is still many years in the future, MEA will bridge two eras in aircraft technology as airplanes shed some of the traditional pneumatic and hydraulic systems for lighter, simpler, electric replacements.