A British aero-engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has started testing bits of a hybrid-electric aero power and propulsion system in Testbed 108. Once operational, the system will be the most powerful one in aerospace, the company claims. 

On January 3, 2021, the manufacturer revealed it began testing the first elements of the AE2100 engine. At Testbed 108, located in Bristol, the United Kingdom, engineers are examining specialist controls and thermal management systems of the engine.

The process comes as a part of the 2.5 megawatts (MW) Power Generation System 1 (PGS1) demonstrator program, which is included in the Rolls-Royce sustainability strategy.

Following the PGS1 program, Rolls-Royce aims to develop innovative electrical power and propulsion systems for future regional aircraft as well as further improve gas turbine performance and promote the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels. 

Simultaneously to the AE2100 engine elements testing in the UK, Rolls-Royce is also testing a fully operational generator and a 3,000-volt power electronics system at its facility in Norway. By the end of 2021, once generator and electronics system testing is completed, the manufacturer plans to conduct a full PGS1 system testing. 

Depending on the results, the new generator is expected to be used either for hybrid-electric propulsion systems or as part of a “more-electric” system for larger aircraft. 

“We know that in a post-COVID-19 world, people will want to connect but do so more sustainably. Electrification offers a new way to power short-haul aircraft, and we want to be at the forefront of pioneering this technology,” Alan Newby, the Director Aerospace Technology and Future Programmes at Rolls-Royce, commented on the issue.

The company also plans that once ground tested, the PGS1 system will become a technology basis for any future hybrid aircraft program requiring MW power.

“Our PGS1 tests will lead the way in finding out what this new generation of hybrid-electric propulsion system is capable of delivering. For example, our generator is about the size of a beer keg, but it needs to produce enough electricity to power around 2,500 homes and do so continuously. By doing these tests, we will be able to validate our digital modeling and find out precisely what is physically and technically possible,” Newby added.