How did you become an expert in Li-ion specifically for Aerospace?
I joined Saft just over a decade ago, originally working with the integration of Li-ion batteries in Bordeaux. At that time, I was working on batteries aimed at hybrid vehicles in the automotive market. I also spent a lot of time on site with customers, facilitating their tests of Li-ion batteries. In 2008, I joined a Saft R&D project focused on the development of 28 volt Li-ion batteries for the aero-space market. It was during this project that we came up with the proposal for the Airbus 350 battery, and I’ve been involved with the project ever since.
Today I am still based in Bordeaux where we have about 150 people working on aviation batteries. There was some serious competition to supply Airbus with its Li-ion batteries. The review process lasted about six months and we were very excited to be selected.
Tell us a little bit more about what your role entails.
I am responsible for running the team and all the engineering co-ordi-nation in relation to the Li-ion battery project for the A350 aircraft.
On a practical level that means creating and sticking to the timeline in order to reach specific milestones. Within this project we are working on the development of the battery itself (the Li-ion cells and mechanical elements), all related electronics, the casings for the batteries, along with maintenance plans and documentation. Naturally, part of my role is to contribute to Saft’s aircraft business as a whole. This means ensuring we are up to date with standards and regula-tion, that our technical skills are top rate and that we are always keeping an eye out for new configurations that might work for other customers.
What’s so special about what Saft has to offer aircraft manufacturers?
A few of our firsts in Li-ion aircraft batteries include: integrating a silicon battery contactor, embedding a charger within the battery, and making this battery act as a No Break Power Transfer meaning that the power to the aircraft electrical loads is never inter-rupted. Today, we hold the highest Design Assurance Level – DAL A to answer the tight aircraft industry safety requirements.
Why are aircraft manufacturers inter-ested in Li-ion?
Li-ion batteries are lighter than traditional nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries. They also have better energy and power-density. For the same, or even better performance, you can save 80 kg on the weight of an aircraft by adopting Li-ion technology. In this business, saving weight means cost savings for the airlines and lower CO2 emissions.
In addition, there is less maintenance required for Li-ion batteries – service intervals can be extended to two years versus the six-monthly servicing required by Ni-Cd batteries. That pres-ents a powerful case for optimized total cost of ownership (TCO).
And finally, Li-ion batteries enable the embedding of other electronics to facilitate additional services like remote condition monitoring.
Are there any aircraft using Li-ion batteries in the air?
Absolutely! We’ve produced close to 700 Li-ion batteries in our factories and they are currently being used by 13 commercial airlines including Qatar Airways, Finnair and Asiana. Li-ion batteries are also in use on close to 200 military aircraft.
Speaking of the future, what role will batteries play in electric aircraft?
There’s no doubt that the evolution of aircraft will require more complex batteries with even higher perfor-mance. We are already seeing the trend to more electric aircraft as electrics replace hydraulics. And in the long term we will see electric-driven aircraft. That will require a step change in battery technology at the cell level to offer the required levels of energy density, combined with reliability and safety of course.