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Project to develop superconducting DC distribution network for aircraft

A new £1.4m project to develop hydrogen-powered electric aircraft is set to begin at Bath University this summer.


Dr Xiaoze Pei, director of Research Quality in the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), is aiming to develop new power systems that will help to reduce the environmental impact of air travel.

Electric aircraft present a host of potential benefits including eliminating in-flight emissions and reducing noise, while the liquid hydrogen fuel needed could be created using renewable energy.

Entitled Towards Zero Emissions Electric Aircraft through Superconducting DC Distribution Network, the five-year, EPSRC Open Fellowship will address issues including power density and efficiency, safety and reliability of on-board electric distribution networks.


The proposed use of liquid hydrogen as a fuel source would mean aircraft would create a cryogenic environment in which to run the power system. This presents new opportunities to exploit high-temperature superconductors and the improved efficiency of DC distribution network, as well as the lower weight of such a system compared with AC set-ups.

Key to the project will be efforts to develop the first reliable high-power density and high efficiency cryogenic and superconducting DC distribution network, which they aim to do by combining new numerical and experimental methods.

Collaborating with industrial partners Airbus UpNext and IXYS UK Westcode Ltd, Dr Pei's team will demonstrate the viability of this technology for future commercial zero-emissions and low-noise electric aircraft.

“I have a vision to achieve net-zero transport, with an emphasis on large-scale electric aircraft,” Dr Pei said in a statement. “On-board electrical power distribution, control and protection remain significant challenges relating to large-scale hydrogen-powered electric aircraft. This Fellowship will tackle these challenges together in a holistic approach to develop a reliable and highly efficient superconducting DC distribution network to act as a key enabler to achieve zero emissions electric aircraft.”