Next-Generation Battery Progress

Dean Sigler Batteries, Biomimicry, Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Do we have “revolutionary” battery progress, or are the next-generation batteries we see proliferating more evolutionary?  Progress has not been particularly speedy: your editor first saw Dr. Yi Chu at a 2009 electric aviation symposium, when he discussed the idea of achieving a “10X” battery within a few years.  Following his tenure at Stanford University, he founded Amprius, which is now producing 500 Watt-hour per kilogram cells.  This big jump in energy density is still short of his original goal, which was to have produced something around 1,000 Watt-hour/kilogram cells.

MagniX Samson

MagniX has been developing ever-larger electric motors for over a decade, and is now developing larger battery packs to power them.  Their next-generation Samson batteries contain 300 Watt-hours per kilogram at the pack level, which means higher energy densities at the module and cell levels.  The addition of a necessary battery management system (BMS) when cells assembled into modules or packs adds weight, but is necessary with lithium batteries to assure fully charging each cell and moderating total pack energy delivery.

MagniX claims their batteries will, “Be certifiable under aviation regulations while delivering industry-leading energy density, unmatched cycle life and patented safety features.”  Besides their high energy density, the batteries can achieve over 1,000 full-depth recharge cycles, assuring low lifetime operating costs.

MagniX Samson 300 batteries and PDX800 power distribution unit

Coupled with their PDX800 lightweight power distribution unit with “intelligent battery management and control, the Samson battery packs are claimed to have “patented safety technologies.”   These include cell-level protections from thermal runaway.  Cells can be stored for long periods at zero charge.

The BMS and configuration of the battery packs enables active cooling during charging and the option for passive cooling in flight.  This reduction of weight and complexity enables a higher energy density overall.

Samson batteries have been developed with the benefit of MagniX’s extensive experience in electric flight, advanced engineering, and software capabilities. These batteries offer a safe, practical solution for battery electric and hybrid electric aircraft. They are designed for ease of integration and are ideally suited to power helicopters and eVTOLs. Additionally, they can be used in applications beyond aerospace, such as powering marine craft.

MagniX and NASA are working toward craft that can be electrified – especially with the newer batteries

Ben Loxton, Vice President of Energy Storage Systems (ESS) and the NASA Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) Program at MagniX is a great spokesman for MagniX.  “magniX’s Samson batteries represent a breakthrough for magniX and electric aviation.  With unrivalled energy density, cycle life, and safety features, magniX’s Samson batteries will help to unlock the tremendous potential of electric flight – enabling many eVTOLs and electric programs on the edge of viability to become viable.”

CATL Condensed Battery

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL), the largest battery company in the world, claims to be already flying a four-ton aircraft with their next-generation batteries.  Nobody seems to have pictures or information about that airplane, or the eight-ton aircraft that is due to replace it as CATL progresses with its test program.

CATL isn’t showing us what the four-ton machine looks like or what the eight-ton expanded version will look like.  They are working with The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd (COMAC) on both craft.

Your editor searched for domestic equivalents that would provide reasonable comparisons.

At the four ton (8,000 pound) mark, the Beechcraft Queen Air comes close to matching the smaller CATL example.  The Queen Air 80 weighs 8,000 all-up, has a 1,284 pound fuel load, carries four to nine passengers and a pilot up to 1,500 miles.

The Beechcraft King Air 350 tops out at 15,000 pounds all-up weight (AUW) with up to a 3,611 pounds maximum fuel load and nine passengers with pilot.  Its range (perhaps not with all ten on board) can extend 1,550 nautical miles or 1,783 statute miles – close to what CATL and COMAC are aiming for.

The fuel load, translated into an equivalent set of battery packs, just might allow for the predicted range.  Shown at the Shanghai Motor Show, the batteries were displayed with a much larger potential product, something which CATL and COMAC might have the ambition to emulate.

CATL’s Chairman, Robin Zeng told an audience at the 15th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions, also known as the Summer Davos Forum, in China’s northeastern Liaoning province, that the Condensed Battery’s 500 Wh/kg energy density opens, “a brand-new electrification scenario of passenger aircraft.”

Toward that end, CATL and COMAC are working together to create the eight-ton plane, and CATL has started an aviation unit, “to design and develop civil aircraft and components like engines and propellers.”

Progress and Evolution

For the last 15 years, your editor has been tracking the sometimes sluggish development of batteries.  Often, the laboratory inklings of new batteries were great performers, but hard to produce at industrial and commercial levels.  Now, rather than promising visions of the future, we’re able to see the present – and it’s not just a distant promise any more.

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