More in

Electrifying the future of aviation

In this Q&A with Evolito Marketing Director, Ben Neville, he discusses bringing innovative technology to manufacture and the future of electric flight

A technology & automotive marketer with over 25 years of experience building and leading high-tech, high-growth brands worldwide, Ben Neville is an industry expert in utilising new technologies to drive sustainable innovation.

Evolito is a privately-owned company developing and manufacturing electric motors and powertrains for aerospace applications. It was spun out in July 2021 by YASA (the world-leading pioneer of next-generation axial-flux electric motors and controllers for automotive, acquired by Mercedes-Benz in August 2021) to exclusively commercialise YASA’s motor technology and IP for the rapidly-growing electric aerospace market.

We caught up with Ben to talk about his experience bringing innovative technology to manufacture, what the future of electric flight might look like and how close we are to seeing commercial electric aircrafts become a reality.

When do you predict we will see short-haul electric aircraft adoption?

The early market openings for electrification will likely come through the hybrid adoption of fixed-wing and electric conversions - similar to what we have seen in automotive in the last decade. Early hybrid opportunities will emerge where the electric motor is used to enable quieter take-offs and landings, helping to reduce noise pollution and emissions in urban areas.

We are already seeing customers with both hybrid & fully electric VTOL prototypes in development, so depending on the speed of certification and regulatory advances these could be flying commercially within the next few years.

What kinds of motor and battery power performance demands are placed on you by today's airframers?

The biggest drivers of demand we see from customers are overall safety, which is of course paramount, and the power-to-weight ratio of the electric propulsion system, which can often lead to a mass compounded weight saving advantage at a vehicle level. In addition to lightness & safety aviation’s shift to electrification also depends on the availability of power & control systems that can reliably deliver the required peak power & performance characteristics to meet core industry mission profiles, such as those demanded by eVTOL and fixed wing applications, whilst also meeting compliance criteria and emerging safety & quality standards - but also cost being competitive.

Evolito recently purchased Electroflight, and what value do the extended capabilities give the company?

Evolito’s vision is clear; we want to deliver complete electric propulsion systems and accelerate the arrival of commercial electric flight. We know the availability of certified aviation grade battery systems will strongly influence market adoption, and buying Electroflight allowed us to address these fundamental industry challenges in tandem with propulsion.

We actually knew the Electroflight team quite well before the acquisition. They were a joint partner with us alongside Rolls-Royce in the record-breaking ACCEL project. Together, we designed, built and flew the world’s fastest electric plane, the Spirit of Innovation. This demonstrated the combined power and thermal management capabilities for batteries and electric motors. When the opportunity to acquire the company arose in 2022, we already knew there was a strong affinity between our teams and also in our vision for electric flight.

How do you develop materials and electronics for aerospace that can endure tough conditions and meet reliability standards?

We have a fairly unique competitive edge at Evolito in that as a team, we can tap into our previous experience of integrating axial-flux into harsh environments before the spin out from YASA. One example is the physical integration of YASA’s axial-flux motor with Ferrari’s V8 internal combustion engine, where we mastered extreme thermal and vibration challenges. Another was when we integrated our motors into the direct drive propulsion system for a tethered wind turbine. The stress at the interface between the electric motor and propeller was significant - way beyond automotive applications and even aerospace - and we were able to develop novel solutions to the Noise, Vibration and Harshness.

At Evolito, we’ve invested in state-of-the-art in-house environmental and endurance test facilities and recruited a team of experienced engineers for product development in harsh aerospace environments. The key here is fostering a culture of continuous innovation, safety & certification milestones. We’re pioneering the use of new, lightweight materials to improve and optimise our products’ performance in the air and ensure the entire system is designed to meet the robust aerospace demands.

Which motor and battery technology is currently gaining the most traction in the aerospace industry?

Axial-flux motor topology is fundamentally more power & torque dense, hence significantly lighter and better suited for aerospace applications than legacy radial electric machines which have dominated the EV market until now. Our technology is unique and it offers orders of magnitude higher power and torque densities in a much smaller package. This offers our customers a system level advantage from the start, with the flexibility of plugging into hybrid, hydrogen or pure electric craft, in a geared or non-geared system.

Industry suppliers like us need to enable the eVTOL market to reach its forecast growth potential while scaling with competitive pricing. By leveraging our experience, Evolito is well-positioned to help fast-track these requirements in the aerospace sector.

Motors and batteries are still very heavy, while materials and components are getting lighter. Do they need to catch up to industry requirements?

Evolito’s e-motors and EPUs offer world-beating power-to-weight ratios. Our best-in-class competitors are offering around 7kW / Kg, whereas we are delivering 13kW / Kg, with a roadmap to even greater performance down the line. This future perspective is key because customers want reassurance that a supplier can meet their changing requirements as and when the market demands it.

Our acquisition of Electroflight enables us to address industry challenges at the whole system level optimisation, including the e-motor, motor controller unit and battery design, with integrated cooling, thermal & power management. We believe having a proven full propulsion system capability helps speed up the development of the electrified aerospace industry.

What makes Evolito different from its competitors?

Our core lightweight axial-flux electric motor technology and our experience from systems design all the way to series production (and now mass-manufacture with Mercedes-Benz) means our team collectively has hundreds of years’ experience across both the aerospace and automotive industries. Our innovative technology already delivers market-leading power-to-weight ratios and system-level advantages to our early stage customers. At the same time, we also have end-to-end capabilities in battery design and manufacturing, making us even more well-placed to solve future customer challenges by offering them full best-in-class certifiable powertrain solutions.

How close is the industry realistically to making commercial electric aircraft a reality?

There are still several hurdles to overcome before electric flight can become commercialised at scale. That said, there are separate emerging markets for electric and hybrid aircraft, and as the barriers to entry for hybrid aircraft and fixed wing conversions are currently lower than eVTOL or UAV, there are differing timeframes & challenges to consider. To cover all relevant bases, Evolito is developing products to meet both electric and hybrid applications for a range of craft from general aviation to eVTOL & UAV.

We’re approaching the market in the same way as YASA addressed the automotive opportunity in the early years. We will deliver initial samples of our next-generation axial-flux electric motors and MCUs later in 2023 for internal testing at Evolito headquarters and our customer sites. Once this is achieved, we will see our electric motors, controllers & batteries in more customer aircrafts within the next two years.