Boeing doubles-down on electric propulsion

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Stand still these days and you risk being left far behind. But you can’t be the master of everything, you need partners who focus on new technologies, several of them to increase your chances of coming up with the absolute winner.

Few firms understand this better than Boeing. So, following on from its investment in battery storage company Cuberg early last year, the airplane maker is forging on. Now, jointly with Safran it will be leading a Series A investment in energy storage developer Electric Power Systems (EPS to develop batteries for electric urban air-mobility aircraft.

When Boeing’s Horizon X investment arm provided seed capital to Cuberg in January 2018, vice president Steve Nordlund noted specifically the manufacturer’s high energy density batteries as having potential usage in electric aircraft.

Now, regarding the EPS investment, Brian Schettler, managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures says: "EPS's battery technology meets Boeing's high standards of safety and can enable significant cost savings for customers. This strategic investment accelerates the development of clean, quiet and safe urban air-mobility solutions."

Boeing Horizon X and Safran Corporate Ventures chose to invest in the newly formed battery technology company with the aim to: “…. develop a highly automated industrial base capable of producing aviation-grade energy storage systems at an unprecedented scale”. That’s according to the Boeing press release.

Conversely, Safran is developing its own electric aircraft-propulsion systems. For example, the OEM has partnered with Bell to develop the electric propulsion system for the Bell Nexus – one of the six eVTOL designs that will fly on Uber’s upcoming air taxi service.

Alain Sauret, Safran Electrical & Power president said: "Safran will collaborate with EPS to offer our customers electric or hybrid-electric propulsion systems with a level of performance that sets us apart from competition.

"This technology cooperation is emblematic of Safran's strategy in greener propulsion solutions. Safran is already at the cutting edge of this field, and we are proud to accelerate through this investment."

A Collaborative effort

In the early days of urban air mobility and electrification, the worlds of start-ups, tech companies and legacy OEM manufacturers are collaborating across the board to develop and harbour the new technologies.

We are seeing tech companies – whether it be San Francisco AI start-ups, on-demand transport apps or battery technology companies – and legacy aviation players joining forces. EPS was established in 2016, riding the wave of heightened interest in electric aviation and is developing batteries and battery management systems purely for the aviation market.

"Electrification of flight has the potential to fundamentally change how goods, services and humans connect. We are thrilled to work with visionary companies such as Boeing and Safran to further develop and field advanced energy solutions that can meet real world mission demands," said Nathan Millecam, EPS’s chief executive officer.