16 April 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Hybrid electric flight pioneer Ampaire ground tests Dimensional Energy e-fuel

Electric aviation pioneer Ampaire has partnered with Dimensional Energy, an emerging power-to-liquid producer, to perform a ground test of a hybrid-electric powertrain using 100% e-SAF created by converting carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere. The two US-based companies performed the test using an Ampaire Eco Caravan, a Cessna Grand Caravan commuter plane retrofitted with an Ampaire AMP-H570 AMP Drive propulsion system. Dimensional Energy specialises in power-to-liquid production, blending captured CO2 with green hydrogen to create syngas, which is then to converted to low carbon liquid e-fuel.  Ampaire has also announced the acquisition of Magpie Aviation, whose autonomous tow aircraft can be used to meet electric planes during flight and tow them for part of their journey, enabling the e-planes to conserve battery power and extend their flight range, before descending under their own power.

Ampaire and Texas-based Dimensional Energy are both backed by global climate investment platform Elemental Excelerator and have significant advance orders for their products. The propulsion company says its AMP-H570 hybrid electric propulsion systems can reduce by 50-70% the fuel burn and emissions of conventional Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engines usually used to power the short-haul Cessna Caravan.

Dimensional’s customers include United Airlines Group, which has not only ordered 300 million gallons of the e-SAF but also invested in the fuel start-up in 2022. Ampaire said the ground test using Dimensional’s 100% ASTM D7566 SAF “exceeded expectations” and progressed the powertrain’s development.

“By showcasing the transformative efficiency gains achievable through hybrid-electric propulsion, we are driving the future of eco-friendly air travel,” said Kevin Noertker, CEO of California-based Ampaire. “The successful ground test using pure SAF from Dimensional Energy marks a pivotal moment in our journey towards sustainable aviation. For those already recognising the potential of SAF, its integration into our hybrid electric aircraft enhances its appeal even further.” 

Dimensional Energy, which describes itself as a “carbon-to-value technology company”, creates e-fuels through the capture and conversion of atmospheric CO2, a pathway which does not rely on feedstocks such as used fat, oils, greases or solid waste, but which, when scaled, will not be limited by feedstock scarcity.

By scaling hybrid-electric technology and SAF for air transport, the company says, “there is an additional opportunity to address the quality and cost concerns associated with SAF, paving the way for even broader use in the aviation industry.”

The Dimensional Energy process involves extracting CO2 from the air with giant fans, then combining it with green hydrogen, produced by using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The syngas this creates is converted via the Fischer-Tropsch process into variations of liquid fuel including SAF or renewable diesel for road and sea transport.

“Technology providers have to collaborate beyond innovation and into execution,” said Jason Salfi, CEO of Dimensional Energy. “By combining Dimensional’s e-fuels with Ampaire’s aircraft technology that can reduce the amount of fuels combusted during flight, we quicken the pace up the steep curve of the energy transition and reduce the need for extraction faster.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Ampaire on this groundbreaking initiative. Our partnership underscores our commitment to advancing sustainable aviation fuel solutions that offer tangible benefits to the aviation industry and contribute to a greener future.” 

Ampaire’s 11-passenger Eco Caravan is already attracting industry interest, with UK-based regional aircraft lessor Monte announcing orders for 25 and options for another 25, and commitments for up to 11 more from Azul Conector and US air mobility provider WingTips. In addition to the Eco Caravan, and its first e-plane, a converted three-passenger Cessna 337 Skymaster dubbed The Electric Eel, Ampaire is also working with NASA to progress the Eco Otter, a four-motor, hybrid-electric version of the 19-seat DHC Twin Otter regional workhorse, targeting a 40-50% reduction in fuel consumption, 65-75% lower emissions, and a 22-32 decibel reduction in noise.

Additionally, it is planning an all-new fully electric commuter plane, the Ampaire TailWind, to be powered by a single rear-mounted ducted fan.  

Elemental Excelerator is a US-based, non-profit global investment platform with a portfolio exceeding 150 companies, “funding projects for climate technologies in communities, and embedding equity and access into climate solutions.”  

CEO Dawn Lippert welcomed the Ampaire-Dimensional partnership as a textbook example of the projects the fund supported. “The announcement by two Elemental portfolio companies, both leaders in their fields, is exactly the kind of collaboration we imagined when investing in Ampaire and Dimensional Energy,” she said. “Their innovations reduce pollution and noise in neighbourhoods around airports and make possible a cleaner way to fly.”  

The Magpie deal expands the portfolio of capabilities offered by Ampaire, and adds to its recent acquisition of another autonomous aircraft business, Talyn, which uses a vertical take-off and landing mule to lift an electric freight aircraft to and from cruise level, without the freighter expending battery power to climb or descend.

Ampaire’s Kevin Noertker said the acquisition of Magpie Aviation would deliver revenue growth across both the commercial and defence sectors, while also extending the capabilities and mission scope of its existing hybrid planes.

“Building upon our recent acquisition of Talyn Air the addition of Magpie exemplifies our deliberate approach to integrating pivotal companies and assets on our path to accelerate our leadership in electric aviation,” he said, foreshadowing more announcements during this year.

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