Sparking an electrical revolution

Rolls-Royce announced recently that it is launching a partnership to study innovative electrical systems technology for the aerospace, marine and energy industries.

The company is opening two new University Technology Centres (UTCs) at Sheffield and Manchester, and linking these with an existing Electrical Power Systems UTC at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, to research new technology that will lead to ‘more-electric’ ships and aircraft.

A new UTC in Advanced Electrical Machines and Drives was opened formally on November 6th at the University of Sheffield, while at Manchester’s UMIST a complementary UTC in Electrical Systems for Extreme Environments will be established shortly.

Rolls-Royce will provide funding for this UTC partnership, and will lead the research projects over a number of years. Further funding will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

According to Rolls-Royce, the UTCs’ work will not only contribute to existing research such as the pan-European Power Optimised Aircraft project, but will aim to improve system functionality to the point where electrical technologies can be used with aero engines in flight.

Dr Mike Howse, Rolls-Royce Director of Engineering and Technology, said: ‘Electrical power systems will prove vital in aerospace and a range of allied industries.

‘We have selected three universities with a good mix of skills to target our future needs. I’m looking forward to an excellent working relationship and anticipate the results will quickly show the value of this partnership.’

While mechanical improvements in mature propulsion sources like gas turbines tend to be incremental, electrical technology offers the potential for step-change gains in system performance.

‘More-electric’ means replacing direct mechanical drive equipment, hydraulic systems and pneumatic systems with electrical components. For aircraft, this allows a global optimisation of a common electrical system across the airframe and removal of the radial drive shaft and gearboxes from the engine, ultimately paving the way towards an oil-free engine.

For marine vessels, removing the conventional mechanical drive train enables greater design freedom for naval architects and the resulting connectivity of electrical systems is said to offer greater operational flexibility.

‘We’re looking forward to working with Rolls-Royce and our partner universities on revolutionary propulsion technologies with huge potential for efficiency and environmental benefits,’ commented Professor Geof Tomlinson, University of Sheffield Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research.