Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace
has received investment from the UK Government, through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme, to fund the development of a ‘smart charger’ for its electric aircraft.
It will increase the in-flight performance and safety for the recently unveiled VA-1X passenger aircraft which is capable of carrying a pilot and four passengers for 100 miles at speeds of 150mph. The company is aiming to certify the aircraft in early 2024 and start initial commercial services shortly after.
This two-year project, expected to be completed by October 2022, pioneers a new wave of aviation battery development. The collaboration between Vertical Aerospace and Warwick University will take cutting-edge electrochemical concepts and principals from academia and apply them to the production of a charger with an incorporated diagnostic device — effectively a ‘smart charger’.
It will analyse in-flight and charge event data which could then be used to optimise battery lifetime, schedule maintenance and detect anomalies. The charger will be able to determine battery lifetime, state of charge, and will detect any potential failures onboard the vehicle’s battery before they happen.
The smart charger give Vertical Aerospace enhanced in-flight performance, safety, and the ability to produce a pre-flight fitness report for the battery.
Limhi Somerville, Vertical Aerospace head of energy storage, said: “Battery systems including charge and diagnostics testing are well-known in academia and industry; having undergone years of R&D for the automotive market.
“An aerospace application provides a fantastic opportunity to adopt methods, designs, models and algorithms that were not financially, volumetrically or technically feasible before. Using these novel approaches, we plan to significantly improve the safety, range and capability of our battery system.”
Vertical Aerospace will be joined in this project by technical experts from the Warwick Manufacturing Group
(WMG) at Warwick University who will be researching the algorithms and models from automotive, ground storage and academia that are suitable for this application.
Vertical will then put this into practice by creating a smart charger which will be tested on one or more of its aircraft.
James Marco, a professor at the University of Warwick, said: “The successful integration and management of battery systems within future electric aircraft represents a significant research challenge and one that WMG is excited to be working on in partnership with Vertical Aerospace.
“This project will allow us to expand our capabilities in battery characterisation, battery system modelling and novel methods of fault diagnosis and prognosis — all within a sector that is strategically important for the UK as it move towards its zero-emission transport targets.”