Electricity has been used to power aircraft since the first days of aviation. However, today’s aircrafts have higher electrical requirements and more advanced and complex electrical systems, of which batteries are one of the main components. Have you ever wondered what type of batteries are the most suitable for aircraft and why?
–Batteries, like other technologies, have advanced significantly in recent years. However, the main technologies used nowadays remain the classics: valve regulated lead-acid (VRLA), nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion). The first type, the lead-acid batteries are the most consolidated technology, offering a competitive cost, high reliability and most importantly, since they do not require regular checking of the electrolyte level, they have been considered “maintenance free batteries”. However, they often present corrosion problems with usage due to the presence of acid and the flammability is a relevant safety hazard to consider. VRLA batteries are widely used in general aviation, small military aircraft or even helicopters. Some examples are the Pilatus PC-21 military trainer and the Kopter SH09 rotorcraft. The Nickel-Cadmium battery is the most used for commercial aviation thanks to a high cycling capacity which ensures long life. It also provides reduced maintenance and low weight and size, which makes these batteries an attractive alternative for the commercial aeronautical industry. Some of the users of Nickel-Cadmium batteries are corporative jets such as the Pilatus PC-24 or big commercial airplanes as the Airbus A-320. Lithium-Ion batteries have not been widely used in aviation until the recent years with the introduction of the RPAS. The main advantage of Li-Ion batteries are the very low weight and low volume, which make them ideal to fit into RPAS. Also, some modern commercial aircraft have installed these batteries in their emergency system such as the Airbus A350XWB. However, these batteries come with a high purchase price and some safety hazards, associated with the high energy densities coupled with the flammable electrolyte, that make them unsafe. Some studies have demonstrated that physical damage, electrical abuse or exposure to elevated temperatures can cause a thermal runaway. As it is seen, the future of the aviation batteries moves towards to a very low weight, low volume, high performance and ultra-low maintenance. Some companies such SAFT Batteries are doing research in this direction and developing prototypes with new battery technologies as solid-state batteries, nickel-based ones or lithium-sulfur that could improve the performance of the current batteries.
At DMD Solutions, we are impatient to take part in the future of aviation. As a RAMS engineering company, we enjoy being present in the advance of aircraft technology towards simpler maintenance procedures, safer and more reliable systems. The development of energy storage systems capable of fulfilling these challenges is a crucial field of investigation in aeronautics.