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MIT Engineers Designed Megawatt Electrical Motor to Electrify Aviation

Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf is a law graduate and freelance journalist with a keen interest in tech reporting.

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In a bid to become a stepping stone toward electrifying commercial airliners, a team of MIT engineers has now designed a 1-megawatt electrical motor that could help electrify aviation. The team has tested the motor’s main parts and demonstrated through in-depth calculations that the connected parts can operate as a unit to produce one megawatt of power at a size and weight competitive with today’s small aero engines.

“No matter what we use as an energy carrier – batteries, hydrogen, ammonia, or sustainable aviation fuel – independent of all that, megawatt-class motors will be a key enabler for greening aviation,” says Zoltan Spakovszky, the T. Wilson Professor in Aeronautics and the Director of the Gas Turbine Laboratory (GTL) at MIT, who leads the project.

The MIT team is made up of Henry Andersen, Yuankang Chen, Zachary Cordero, David Cuadrado, Edward Greitzer, Charlotte Gump, James Kirtley, Jeffrey Lang, David Otten, David Perreault, and Mohammad Qasim from GTL and the MIT Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems, as well as Marc Amato from Innova-Logic LLC. The project is sponsored by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

MIT’s Megawatt Electrical Motor

The MITMegawatt electrical motor and power electronics are both roughly the size of a checked bag and weigh less than an adult passenger when used as intended. The team thinks the motor may be connected to a battery or fuel cell as an electrical source for all-electric applications. To power a plane’s propellers, the megawatt electrical motor may convert electrical energy into mechanical work. Additionally, the electrical device might be coupled with a conventional turbofan jet engine to function as a hybrid propulsion system, offering electric power during specific flight phases.

“I believe this is the first truly co-optimized integrated design,” Spakovszky says. “This means we did a very extensive design space exploration where all considerations from thermal management to rotor dynamics, to power electronics and electrical machine architecture, were assessed in an integrated way to find out what is the best possible combination to get the required specific power at one megawatt.”

The main parts of the megawatt electrical motor are a high-speed rotor lined with a variety of magnets with different polarity orientations, a small, low-loss stator that fits inside the rotor and has a complex array of copper windings, an advanced heat exchanger that keeps the parts cool while transferring the machine’s torque, and a distributed power electronics system made of 30 specially made circuit boards that precisely alter the currents flowing through each of the magnets.

By the middle of June, during the Aviation conference, Spakovszky and members of his team will present their work at a special session of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) – Electric Aircraft Technologies Symposium (EATS).

SourceMIT News


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