Bedford, UK. 16th June 2023:
Our Chief Engineer, Mike Sheath, recently visited Norway as part of the Innovate UK GBIP Programme. This proved to be an incredibly valuable experience, with learnings from the trip contributing towards Greenjets’ near-term goal of electrifying 80-seater hovercraft. We see this target as an achievable and profitable stepping-stone toward the development of propulsors for the Regional Air Mobility (RAM) market.Why Regional Air Mobility (RAM)?
Regional Air Mobility is one of the many exciting sub-sectors of the Advanced Air Mobility market. This use case promises to be a faster, more affordable and cleaner alternative to existing modes of regional commuting. Several regional electric aircraft programmes (9-50 seats) are currently in the conceptual or demonstrator stage (inc. Eviation, Heart
). Whilst we salute these efforts, we conservatively predict that significant technical barriers standing in the way of commercialisation (e.g., batteries, certification, infrastructure) will take 5-7 years to overcome. We are not alone in our realism. A market leader in 9-19 seat regional aircraft, Tecnam, recently announced (June 23) that it had paused its electrification programme after 3 years of investigation alongside Rolls-Royce due to the slow progress of battery technology development. Clearly, time-intensive technological development is needed before RAM programmes can reach maturity. Consequently, Greenjets has taken a different approach in this market: By first applying our expertise and technology to the electrification of large hovercraft
(up to 80 seaters), we capitalise on a niche but immediate application for our technology. Hovercraft vs. Electric Aircraft:
Surprisingly, hovercraft are genetically more similar to aircraft than they are to boats. Until the late 90s, hovercraft were certified by the Civil Aviation Agency (CAA) in the UK. Since then, regulation has transitioned over to Lloyds Register (a marine regulator), although regulations remain much the same. There are several similarities from a technical perspective, too. One is the fact that today’s large hovercraft use aviation propellers to generate thrust. Another similarity is that, much like airlines, hovercraft operators are highly cautious of noise; adopting ducted propellers to reduce the impact noise has on local communities.
Placing an 80-seat hovercraft alongside a 19-seat aircraft, we find that their static thrust and power requirements are much the same - presenting a clear developmental pathway for Greenjets to transition from sea to sky. Relieved from stringent aerospace regulation, and designing to weight targets attainable with today’s battery technology, we can enter the manned propulsion market within 2-3 years – far ahead of our RAM competitors. Whilst considerations unique to the marine environment (low cruise speeds, higher rate of corrosion) will result in some differences, we believe that this approach will place us extremely well to transition towards powering regional electric aircraft (9-19 seats and beyond). What have we done so far?
We have partnered with the world’s largest commercial hovercraft manufacturer, Griffon Hoverwork, to bring this vision to life. Griffon have produced over 200 hovercraft to date, which now operate across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Our first step is this journey has been the delivery of Project ZEHPHyr, funded by the UK Government’s CMDC (Clean Maritime Demonstration Challenge) competition. ZEHPHyr, which began in January 2023, aims to de-risk the key barriers to zero-emission hovercraft operations. These barriers range from socioeconomics, crew training and availability of hydrogen/charging infrastructure to the development of megawatt-class electric propulsion systems. Overcoming these preliminary challenges paves the way for the implementation of our Greenjets IPM propulsion system, which we plan to demonstrate on 12-seat and 80-seat hovercraft. The introduction of zero-emission hovercraft into commercial service is expected in 2025, beginning in the UK but with additional opportunities in the US, Canada and Japan.
To learn more about existing zero-emission marine operations, our Chief Engineer, Mike Sheath, visited Norway. Exploration of opportunities in Norway:
Norway has been operating zero-emission marine vessels (battery, hydrogen) and zero-emission marine port operations for over a decade. The Global Business Innovation Programme, in collaboration with InnovateUK and InnovateUKEDGE, brought together a delegation of some of the UK's leading Clean Maritime companies for a week-long trip. Some key highlights from the trip were:
- A thorough tour of the 600 seater battery powered ferry, Kongen, that has a 2MWh battery pack and a 1125 ton all-up weight. Kongen briefed Mike on their battery storage, charging and engine room. The visit emphasised the additional complexity and features needed for a battery craft regarding safety, integration and regulations.
- Attending the Nor-Shipping Conference, now in its 58th
year, which brings together all the key suppliers for the e-shipping industry in Norway. A massive event with many countries there, representing all aspects of the shipping industry. Some useful seminars and events - for example the use of a fluid/oil that can be the carrier/medium for storing hydrogen and transporting it under more conventional temperatures and safety regulations.
- A day trip to Bergen to see the shore power systems and Plug technology. Some useful insights into the ground infrastructure needed to sustain megawatt-class vessels. An insightful trip with good support from the team at Plug, who took the time to explain their shore power solution in detail.
- A visit to the Olso container port, where we saw the electrification of their crane, fork lifts and lorries. Some of the challenges facing decarbonisation at the port became evident. These included the impact the winter season has on battery capacity, as well as overall capital expenditure and the broader infrastructure needed to enable this transition.
Key learnings from Mike’s visit with regard to our pursuit of Regional Air Mobility:
The trip to Norway re-emphasised the necessity for comprehensive aircraft propulsion integration, and to a similar extent hovercraft, too. Conventional ferries have a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to volume and mass allowances, which can’t be afforded on aircraft. Increased integration, as employed by Greenjets led Innovate UK Inception project, results in higher power density, efficiency and space/mass saving by designing the full propulsion system as one solution.
Reaching a compelling business case with first of type zero carbon vehicles appears challenging and looks unlikely until the technology develops and the market matures. Carbon fuel taxing and incentives seem to be necessary to help influence the transition to zero carbon. In Oslo, the ferries were subsidised to lower the fare price. The visiting ships had a financial charge that varied depending on their carbon reduction activities, and the container port had to consider the impact of reduced capability from battery vehicles in the winter months with associated increase in capital expenditure.
MW-class electrical power infrastructure looks like one of the main bottle necks for large scale electronification of the transport network. Norway has a level of reserve capacity within its network, allowing shore power solutions to be developed in steps of 10MW or 15MW. This level of additional power consumption within parts of the UK is unlikely to be so readily available without infrastructure development.
Learn by doing:
A lot of lessons have been learnt as a result of real-world operations. Businesses need to be supported in bringing zero-carbon technology to market. In doing so, they will drive the learning, generate real-world data, iterate on technology and bring the UK population along with them on the journey of de-carbonisation.
Greenjets is building next generation electric propulsion systems for advanced air mobility. Our ducted fan propulsion technology is the quietest, safest and most efficient of its class. Our product range extends from 2kW to 1MW – powering drones, air taxis and electric aircraft. Our team has over 300 years of deep domain knowledge carried over from Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems & Formula 1. Our team’s learnings from these experiences are reflected in our unique design & manufacturing methodology, which allow us to produce propulsion systems at an unrivalled pace.
Learn more at http://www.greenjets.com