Aviation is responsible for more than 2% of global CO2 emissions, which ranks it in the top 10 emitters. At the same time, the cities all around the world are trying to tackle air and noise pollution and massive traffic jams. Couple that with the facts that battery prices are rapidly becoming lower and that the industry is moving toward a greener aviation, and electric aircraft come as the perfect solution. One of the pioneering companies in the sector is Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel. The company says it is the only one in the world with a serial production of two-seat electric aircraft and the electric training aircraft.
In June, Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro aircraft successfully completed the first flight of an electric powered airplane in Norway, whose goal is to electrify the entire local air transport by 2040. The country’s authorities anticipate the first electric-powered passenger flights by 2025.
Civil aviation is getting greener
Pipistrel says that megacities are driving the demand for vertical mobility. Helicopters are noisy, expensive, slow and electric helicopters would not work.
The technology convergence is now enabling a booming market for radically new, quiet, comfortable aerial vehicles with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability. Such aircraft in cities will provide another component to distribution of traffic: the third dimension.
This can radically reduce the time of travel (from approximately an hour, lost in traffic jams, to approximately 10 minutes), and according to Pipistrel, this also means less noise, but mostly less pollution.
If we add to this the electric propulsion, it means we can get down to fully sustainable sources, zero pollution and zero CO2 emissions, better air quality in big cities (less dust particles in the air, better visibility and less health threat to people), says Taja Boscarol, Public Relations Manager at Pipistrel.
NASA challenge award winning aircraft
Pipistrel has many electric aircraft projects. Among others, there are two models of fully electric 2-seat aircraft which are already in serial production – Taurus Electro since 2007 and Alpha Electro since 2015, the world’s first 4-seat fully electric aircraft, which won the NASA challenge – Taurus G4, and the most powerful aircraft hybrid engine (Hypstair project).
The company also has other green projects such as the first hydrogen fuel cells 4-seat aircraft (Hy4) and electric VTOL.
The Alpha Electro, a 2-seat electric trainer, is optimized for training taking-off and landings, because the electric motor recuperates almost 15% of energy on every approach. The fuel cost is reduced by over 70%, with zero CO2 emissions and minimum noise.
According to company data, the 85 kW electric motor only weighs 14 kg and is more powerful than the typical Rotax 912 series. The 21 kWh battery pack is dual-redundant and designed to be quickly charged between flights with Pipistrel’s specialized charging station SkyCharge.
“Alpha Electro meets microlight and ASTM LSA criteria, as well as standards for electric propulsion and is already certified in several countries. Innovations used in it are making aviation more sustainable in the long run. As electric drives are scalable, we can expect that in the future also larger aircraft will use electric propulsion,” says Boscarol.
Taurus Electro G2 has better characteristics. The aircraft is powered by the specially-developed emission-free Pipistrel’s 40kW electric power-train. The propulsion motor weighs 11 kg (rather than 16 kg) and generates 10 kW more power, resulting in a total of 40 kW.
Now you can fly for free
Accordion to Pipistrel, the company has another world’s first – the concept of Flying For Free. Company developed the Solar Trailer, which can charge-up the Taurus Electro G2 absolutely free and with zero emissions.
Charging with the help of the Solar Trailer offers 1 kW of usable energy, this means charging time 10 hours for 30-Ah batteries and 12 hours for 40-Ah batteries.
When the Taurus Electro G2 is stored in the trailer, it will still be charged and ready to fly.
The Solar Trailer and Taurus Electro G2 are perfect companions and demonstrate how it is possible to fly free of charge, quietly and with absolutely zero emissions, with today’s technology, Boscarol says.
As another step in green transition, Pipistrel’s new research and development building, with 2,400 m2, had been designed as environmentally friendly and emission-free. All energy consumed by the building and the activities inside do not put any stress on the environment. The building is completely powered by renewable energy sources and energy self-sufficient.
The trend is electric and efficient hybrid
Boscarol says that the current trends in making aviation greener in the EU and the world are mostly electric and efficient hybrid. There is a lot of interest in this, certain countries are sponsoring building of electric charging stations on their airports and giving incentives for electric aircraft.
“Pipistrel is the only company in the world who is serially producing and delivering electric aircraft! All the others are still in the phase of offering prototypes. We launched our first fully electric model to the market in 2007, so we have more than 11 years of experience. With our aircraft this trend will be much faster than with any other,” Boscarol notes.
The interest for Pipistrel’s aircraft comes from single customer users to cites, clubs, ministry of defense, and even governments. Six large cities (Dallas, Dubai, Singapore, San Francisco, London and Shanghai) decided to support the electrification of VTOL traffic by building take-off platforms and electric charging stations by 2025. Some Scandinavian countries are doing it on the national level, like, for example, Norway, Boscarol says.
The company’s goals include development and opening new markets for projects such as electric civil aviation and aircraft for special mission platforms for all kinds of aerial work, photography, surveillance, optical mapping, and 3D mapping.
30-year long tradition
Pipistrel has been in operation for almost 30 years. It was established in 1989 as the first private aircraft producer in the former Yugoslavia. Pipistrel’s primary activity is design and production of different types of aircraft – single-seat, double-seat and 4-seat; motorplanes, gliders and electric-powered aircraft.
The company won the European Business Award for Innovation in November 2010, having been chosen as “the most innovative company in the European Union” among 15,000 competitors.
Pipistrel aircraft won the NASA challenge for the Best small aircraft in the world three times.