A zero-emission aircraft equipped with superconducting technologies, the new project of Airbus and CERN

Airbus signs a promising partnership with CERN.

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Airbus continues to move towards more environmentally friendly aviation. The subsidiary of the French manufacturer Airbus UpNext has just signed a cooperation agreement with CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, the largest particle physics center in the world based in Geneva (Switzerland). A decision announced publicly in a joint statement on December 1.

A complex technology to master

To succeed in developing a zero-emission electric aircraft, electric technologies must be modernized. To do this, the aircraft manufacturer intends to use CERN’s know-how in superconducting technologies. As a reminder, superconducting materials have the ability to transmit an electric current without any loss. This technique allows an efficiency close to 100% and a reduction in the overall mass of the materials used.

Currently, to activate the superconductivity of a material, the most common technique consists of cooling it to a temperature close to absolute zero, ie -273.15°C. A serious limit that researchers are trying to circumvent by studying superconductors at high critical temperatures (with cooling close to -138°C, technically easier to achieve). Implanting superconducting technologies in an aircraft could reduce its mass and maximize its efficiency. Two important variables to preserve battery life.

Superconducting materials can produce a levitating effect by expelling the magnetic field around them (illustration).

Superconducting materials can produce a levitating effect by expelling the magnetic field around them (illustration).

© Getty Images

A zero-emission aircraft within ten years

The partnership will focus its efforts on the creation of a demonstrator (a prototype), called SCALE for Super-Conductors for Aviation with Low Emissions. The goal is to develop within ten years a device capable of flying.

We are already developing a demonstrator based on superconductivity […] to study the feasibility of this technology for hybrid and electric-powered aircraft. It seemed completely natural to us to combine the knowledge provided by our demonstrator with the unique skills of Cern in the field of superconductors.“said Sandra Bour-Schaeffer, Chairman and CEO of Airbus UpNext.

For his part, José Miguel Jimenez, head of the technology department at CERN, talks about the technologies at the origin “of the greatest discoveries in high-energy physics. If applied to aircraft power distribution systems, they would significantly reduce the weight of aircraft and make them more efficient.

A new collaboration for Airbus unveiled a few hours later the announcement of another research agreement with the Renault group on the development of the battery “from the future“. A proliferation of partnerships which testifies to Airbus’ clear desire to accelerate its transition to all-electric.

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