Brazilian manufacturer Embraer on Monday unveiled its view of the shape of aviation things to come with a family of hybrid, hydrogen and electric concept aircraft.
The company says it is exploring the futuristic “Energia” aircraft as part of its contribution to helping the aviation industry achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
It is partnering with an international consortium of engineering universities, aeronautical research institutes and small to medium firms.
The idea is to better understand how issues such as energy harvesting, storage and thermal management can be applied to sustainable aircraft propulsion.
There are plenty of sceptics out there, including Emirates President Tim Clark, who believe the industry is over-hyping its ability to solve the thorny problem of CO2 emissions, particularly for long-haul operations.
READ: Sir Tim Clark questions supersonics, air taxis and hydrogen fuel.
Nonetheless, an avalanche of research has been launched into potential new aircraft types.
Embraer is not addressing the long-haul issue but is focussed on four regional aircraft ranging from a nine-seater hybrid-electric aircraft to a hydrogen gas turbine concept capable of seating 35 to 50 people.
Each will be evaluated for its technical and subsequent commercial viability and, assuming they move from the drawing board, the company expects they will come on stream in the 2030 to 2040 timeframe.
Embraer senior vice president of engineering, technology and corporate strategy Luis Carlos Affonso said smaller aircraft were ideal platforms on which to test and prove new propulsion technologies before they are scaled up to larger aircraft.
“We see our role as a developer of novel technologies to help the industry achieve its sustainability targets,’’ Affonso said.
“There’s no easy or single solution in getting to net zero. New technologies and their supporting infrastructure will come online over time.
“We’re working right now to refine the first airplane concepts, the ones that can start reducing emissions sooner rather than later.”
First off the block will be what is arguably the easiest technology to achieve. The Energia Hybrid (E9-HE) is a nine-seater hybrid-electric aircraft with rear-mounted engines that Embraer calculates will save up to 90% in CO2 emissions and could be ready by 2030. It is expected to have a range of 500nm and a 60 percent lower external noise profile.
A fully electric plane with zero operating emissions and capable of seating nine people should be ready by 2035. The Energia Electric (E9-FE) will feature aft contra-rotating propellers and have a relatively short range of 200nm. However, it will be quiet with 80 percent lower external noise.
Also due by 2035, is another zero operating emissions plane using hydrogen-electric propulsion featuring rear-mounted electric engines, the Energia H2 Fuel Cell (E19-H2FC). This will take up to 19 passengers and will also have a range of about 200nm.
By 2040, Embraer’s vision is the Energia H2 Gas Turbine (E50-H2GT) will be powered by hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to maximize operational flexibility and reduce aircraft weight. The modified rear-mounted gas turbine engines will allow it to carry 35 to 50 passengers between 350 and 500nm It will have zero operational emissions and 60 percent lower external noise.
Embraer already has experience in the aircraft emissions space, having tested drop-in sustainable fuel mixes on its E-Jets. It plans to have all its aircraft SAF-compatible by 2030.
It has also flown a single-engine electric demonstrator, the EMB-203, and plans to have a hydrogen fuel-cell demonstrator by 2025. Its eVTOL, a fully electric, zero-emissions vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, is being developed for entry into service in 2026.
“We will see a big transformation in our industry towards a more sustainable aviation,’’ said Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer. “With 50 years experience in developing, certifying and supporting regional aircraft, Embraer is in a unique position to make viable the introduction of new disruptive green technologies.”