Advanced Magnet Lab Awarded NASA Contract For Superconducting Machine Modeling for Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Propulsion

Palm Bay, FL — The Advanced Magnet Lab, Inc. (AML) has been awarded a three-year research contract from NASA for developing an experimentally validated, high fidelity, physics-based sizing model for high power superconducting machines, such as electrical generators and turbo-electric propulsion fans. The project addresses NASA’s objectives for developing new aircraft technologies which have significant improvements in propulsion efficiency, reliability, emissions and noise. AML’s effort will include developing very versatile design/synthesis software tools.  These tools will be experimentally validated by laboratory tests, allowing NASA to size and model superconducting machines and perform aircraft design based on hybrid-electric propulsion.

Superconducting rotating machines provide a potential solution to meet NASA’s aeronautics goals for future hybrid-electric commercial aircraft. Key to an electric vehicle is the development of electric machines that are as compact and powerful as gas turbines.  Today’s turbofans, driven by gas turbines, would be replaced with high power superconducting motors driving ducted fans. Large commercial aircraft require tens of Megawatts of propulsion power, excluding the use of conventional high weight electric energy systems. The electrical power is expected to be generated by high-speed, superconducting turbo-generators burning jet fuel or hydrogen.

Heading up the project for AML is Dr. Philippe J. Masson, a Senior Scientist who has worked on earlier studies for turbo-electric propulsion.  “This award will provide an important next step for both NASA and the use of high power superconducting machines for future advanced aircraft based on distributed propulsion. Hybrid-electric distributed propulsion will enable more efficient, less polluting and quieter aircraft”, according to Dr. Masson. Joining AML in the project will be Empirical Systems Aerospace out of San Luis Obispo, CA and The Boeing Company out of Huntington Beach, CA.  They will provide expertise on the integration and definition of the design space for the different types of superconducting machines used in a turbo-electric propulsion system.

These machines are based on “superconductivity”, a phenomena that allows the flow of electrical current with zero electric resistance and thus without energy losses – when operating in a very low [cryogenic] temperature. When applied to high power applications, superconductivity has the potential to provide revolutionary changes in power generation, power transmission and energy use by significantly reducing the cost of energy production and increasing energy efficiency in ways that are environmentally benign. “The NASA program is very synergistic with the company’s commercial product developments for large 10 Megawatt offshore wind turbine generators and high efficiency motors all based on superconducting machine configurations”, according to Vernon Prince, General Manager of AML’s energy business unit. “Lessons learned in this program about the practical use of superconductors in electrical machines, such as cryogenic cooling, conductor stabilization and management of thermal losses, will lower risk and accelerate introduction in other applications.”

Headquartered in Palm Bay, Florida, AML has over 15 years experience in designing, optimizing, and manufacturing superconducting and normal conducting electromagnetic systems. AML’s technology and knowhow provide the foundation to develop state of the art sizing models for superconducting applications building on its extensive experience on superconducting devices. Core to AML’s technology and capabilities is a team of international experts in the fields of high-power magnet systems, superconductivity, robotics and manufacturing automation. AML’s comprehensive technology portfolio includes proprietary 3D software and Double-Helix™ magnet technology, a discovery that enables “perfect” magnetic fields with virtually no limits for configuring magnetic field shapes.