By Fangzhong Guo
Embraer Energia Drops Full Electric To Focus on Hydrogen and Hybrid Propulsions
Embraer revealed new aircraft concepts today as part of the company’s progress report on Energia, Embraer’s initiative to get the aviation industry to net-zero by 2050.
A year on from Embraer’s Sustainability in Action event, which detailed the study of four new aircraft concepts powered by new technologies and renewable energies, the company has been focusing on two 19-30 seater designs for hybrid electric and hydrogen-electric propulsion. Guided by the company’s 50-year technical expertise, external inputs from airlines, and joint studies with engine OEMs, these two approaches to net-zero offer a technically realistic and economically feasible pathway to net-zero.
The Brazillian manufacturer shared the updates via The Shape Of Things To Come. The one-hour presentation streamed live to the world on YouTube from São José dos Campos in Brazil and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
First announced in November 2021, The Energia Family was comprised of four concept aircraft of varying sizes that incorporate different propulsion technologies – electric, hydrogen fuel cell, dual fuel gas turbine, and hybrid-electric.
• Energia Hybrid (E9-HE), a 9-seat hybrid-electric propulsion plane with rear-mounted engines.
• Energia Electric (E9-FE), a 9-seat full electric propulsion plane with aft contra-rotating propellers.
• Energia H2 Fuel Cell (E19-H2FC), a 19-seat hydrogen-electric propulsion aircraft with rear-mounted electric engines.
• Energia H2 Gas Turbine (E50-H2GT), a 35 to 50-seat hydrogen or SAF/JetA turbine propulsion plane with rear-mounted engines.
After a year in development, the Brazillian company has down-selected the concepts it’ll focus on in the next year. In the next phase, the manufacturer will concentrate its resource on developing SAF-based hybrid-electric propulsion and Hydrogen-electric propulsion. In addition to narrowing down propulsion technology, the company also decided to move forward with 19 and 30-seater airplanes.
On the low end, Embraer is upsizing its hybrid-electric 9-seater to a 19-seater while shelving the full electric plane altogether. The 9-seat segment is a hotly contested space with several engine makers, such as MagniX and Ampaire, working on Cessna 208 conversions. On the upper end, it makes sense for Embraer to mature the technology with smaller planes before committing to a schedule for readying the 50-seater.
The Energia H2FC looks largely the same as what Embraer released a year ago. The design is still a T-tailed plane with two rear-mounted propeller engines. According to the manufacturer, this design enabled the aircraft to have a clean wing design that provides better aerodynamics and uses a shorter harness to lower energy loss.
A noticeable addition is the air inlet at the base of the empennage. Due to the heat generated from the fuel cell installed in the tail, it requires RAM air to cool down the battery pack.
The company also disclosed the range of its Hydrogen airplane. Embraer expects the plane to have a range of 200nm, which the company noted excludes regulatory reserves and estimated fuel cell degradations. The company expects the aircraft to be technologically ready in 2035.
Unlike many existing concepts, such as the Heart Aerospace ES-30, where the aircraft uses a gas turbine as a generator to power an electric engine, the Energia E19-HE utilizes a parallel architecture. The plane uses battery cells during the intense power phases, such as taxing and take-off, while benefiting from the traditional thermal engine’s high efficiency during the cruise phase. This design allows the plane to carry a smaller battery pack, improving the airplane’s performance.
Since it only has a small battery back and uses traditional propulsion for most parts of the flight, it did not require an inlet similar to that on the E9-H2FC. With its lighter weight, the Brazillian company suggests it could reduce carbon emissions by 90% by using SAF. The E19-HE is expected to be technologically ready in 2030.
The regional aircraft giant also showcased the Energia family’s interior design during the live-stream event. The cabin features a 1+2 layout which also allows average passenger standing space in the aisle. This arrangement is a departure from most of the existing 19-seat aircraft designs, where seating is mainly in a 1+1 layout. The design may be a result to improve weight distribution with the battery in the tail.
The cabin also provides small overhead bins, which along with other components, will be made from lightweight, sustainable materials. With the plane’s focus on lightweight, it may still allow operators to fly the aircraft without a flight attendant.
As companies advanced in sustainable aviation research, 2022 has seen more companies pivoting from fully electric aviation to hybrid or hydrogen propulsion. It’s no exception with Embraer. This change also converges the South American manufacturer’s track with its European counterpart, which should give us much confidence that the industry is honing in on a realistic approach to a sustainable future.