MIT engineers have achieved a momentous feat in the realm of large electric aircraft by successfully developing a one-megawatt electric motor. The groundbreaking advancement brings us closer to the ambitious goal of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
Traditional aircraft currently leave a substantial carbon footprint, necessitating significant innovation within the aviation industry — however, the existing solutions for electrifying aviation have limitations when it comes to replacing large jet engines.
Although there have been attempts to create fully electric planes, these endeavors have mostly been on a small scale, with motors generating only a few hundred kilowatts of power; recognizing this constraint, a team of MIT engineers embarked on the task of developing a one-megawatt electric motor to meet the higher power requirements of larger aircraft.
Designing an electric motor presents numerous challenges
Designing a one-megawatt electric motor presents numerous challenges that require a comprehensive understanding of its inner workings. Electric motors typically utilize electrical energy to generate a magnetic field, accomplished by passing current through copper coils.
The interaction between the generated magnetic field and a magnet positioned near the coils results in rotational motion, which propels a fan or propeller. To generate greater power, larger copper coils are necessary. However, this also leads to increased heat generation, demanding the inclusion of cooling elements in the motor design.
The motor designed by the MIT engineers features a high-speed rotor equipped with magnets oriented in various polarity orientations. Complementing this is a compact and efficient stator filled with intricate copper windings. In addition, they have developed a distributed power electronics system that employs 30 custom-built circuit boards capable of precisely manipulating currents through the copper windings at high frequencies.
To minimize power loss during transmission, the circuit boards are seamlessly integrated with the motor, and an integrated heat exchanger ensures efficient air cooling during operation. Currently, the researchers have conducted individual component tests, confirming the system’s ability to generate an impressive one-megawatt output.
In the upcoming months, the components will be assembled, and the motor will undergo rigorous comprehensive testing as an integrated unit. The researchers are highly optimistic that this motor will prove suitable for powering regional aircraft, and future aircraft designs may incorporate multiple motors integrated along the wing.
The endeavor undertaken by MIT engineers signifies a significant stride towards revolutionizing large electric aircraft. The potential of this one-megawatt electric motor opens up new possibilities for sustainable aviation, contributing to the global mission of reducing carbon emissions and shaping the future of air transportation.
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