The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

European Commission Funds Avio Aero To Build Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Demonstrator

The European Commission’s Clean Aviation joint undertaking has commissioned Italy’s Avio Aero to produce a hybrid-electric propulsion technology demonstrator for commercial aviation applications. The company, which is part of GE Aerospace, says it will lead the Amber project with $34 million in funding over the next four years.

Amber, which is one of several Clean Aviation projects, will involve developing a megawatt-class propulsion system powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The demonstrator to be produced by Avio Aero will be used to establish how best to integrate components such as a motor/generator, power converters, and power transmission systems with fuel cells. The company aims to be ready to start ground rig testing using GE’s new Catalyst turboprop engine by the mid-2020s.

The Amber consortium supporting Avio Aero consists of 20 other companies and institutions, including other GE business units in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Turkey. Other partners include H2Fly, Leonardo, and government-backed aerospace research agencies DLR (Germany), CIRA (Italy), and WIA (Poland), as well as universities around Europe.

Amber is one of 20 Clean Aviation initiatives to reduce carbon emissions from air transport. “Clean Aviation’s primary ambition is to drive a step-change in aircraft performance by radically boosting efficiency in aircraft and fleet performance,” commented Clean Aviation executive director Axel Krein. “For regional aircraft, our goal is an improvement [in carbon dioxide emissions] of at least 50 percent compared with a typical flight today.”

Other related Clean Aviation projects include Hydea, under which a consortium including Avio Aero, Safran Aircraft Engines, and Airbus is developing a hydrogen combustion engine. The same combination of companies, along with other partners, are working to prepare for flight testing of open-fan engines later in the 2020s through the Ofelia program.

Announcing the new funding on December 15, Avio Aero did not specify which aircraft platform might be used for flight testing the Amber propulsion system or what the timeline for that milestone might be. It is working with Leonardo on the Hera project to define a regional airliner suited to hybrid-electric propulsion.