DuXion’s electric jet project lifted by island-to-island partnership

Posted on May 05, 2021 | Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments

Assembled E-Jet

DuXion Motors’ electric jet engine project has been propelled to the next level, thanks to successful cross-province partnerships, early investor interest and public support, including a just over $340,000 contribution announced this week from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Co-founder and CEO Rick Pilgrim said the St. John’s-based company (DuXion; pronounced “duction,” as in “induction”) has a patent pending on designs for an electric jet motor.

On paper, Pilgrim says the concept will offer thrust capability at 90 per cent of that of today’s aircraft jet engines of comparable weight, but with annual maintenance costs estimated at roughly a tenth of the cost for what would be in common use today. Of great appeal in the global race against climate change, he sees the new design offering the ability for aircraft with higher-capacities in zero-emissions flight (potentially a hybrid plane with reduced emissions, depending on available battery tech for commercialization).

“We see this as being extremely disruptive technology,” Pilgrim summed up, in an interview this week with Atlantic Business Magazine.

He spoke openly about the process still ahead, on what is one of several projects the company has ongoing related to motors and engine units for the aerospace and marine sectors. A first step on the electric jet is proving out the company’s novel design, beginning with a roughly one-third-scale model and ground testing. That effort was sped up with the provincial government buy-in, covering nearly half of the roughly $750,000 total cost, atop early private investment and support from the National Research Council.

The next step will be to scale up to a full-sized prototype, with ground and in-air testing. That’s a far more expensive milestone with greater regulatory requirements, coming at what Pilgrim estimates could be a $10-million to $12-million cost. The company is working on the financing.

DuXion’s has enjoyed early momentum is thanks at least in part to the combined efforts of its directors, including Jason Aspin of Prince Edward Island’s Aspin Kemp and Associates (AKA) engineering firm. AKA is known for having moved early on all-electric and hybrid designs and microgrid power systems. Aspin and Pilgrim first met as colleagues working in the oil industry and Pilgrim estimates that was 20 years ago or more now.

E-Jet Exploded View

Pilgrim was born on the air base in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, and when he decided more recently to make a move from Texas back to Newfoundland and Labrador to take over DuXion, he connected with Aspin, to talk about markets and potential for collaborations. They saw a world of opportunity.

Apart from AKA, DuXion is partnered with P.E.I.’s Tronosjet (Tronos Aviation), to meet some of the future needs on the physical testing of the electric jet concept and other motors works, including in-flight testing.

Other DuXion directors are Richard Roper and Sheikh Rabbi, with the latter also being chief technology officer for DuXion and very much central to its current momentum. “Rabbi studied under Dr. (Azizur) Rahman at Memorial University who is considered the grandfather of the interior permanent magnet machine,” Pilgrim said.

Rahman (d. 2018) was a well-known figure at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Energy Systems Lab, with many years of teaching, mentorship and professional credits. Among those credits, as highlighted in his obituary, he was “best known for developing the world’s first self-start, high efficiency, interior permanent magnet (IPM) motor, which enabled Toyota to launch the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius.”

DuXion was born out of MUN’s “motor lab,” Pilgrim said, originally with student work that led to the creation of the company in 2017, before his time. The business was re-born a couple of years later, with new life coming through new advancements in design and new financial leadership, bringing it to where it stands today–chasing a goal and really the dream of many companies in aviation today.

Atlantic Canada’s aviation history runs deep and includes–among its many landmark moments – the experiments of Alexander Graham Bell and the Aerial Experiment Association’s “Silver Dart” at Baddeck Bay in 1909, and British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown’s first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. From flights over the Atlantic through the Second World War to the Avro Arrow experiments, to far more recent advancements in surveillance craft.

Canada’s aerospace business is centred in Ontario and Quebec, but there are bright spots in the Atlantic provinces, where companies are also looking to the next era of aviation. For DuXion, that begins with lower-emission and emissions-free jet planes.

Electric aircraft have been around since the 1970s, with short, single-seat and unmanned flights. Jet fuels offered the energy density all-electric batteries and even hybrids couldn’t. Apart from sheer power to sustain flights, being the main hurdle, weight distribution is a trick, with lighter electric motors and heavy batteries being a difficult balancing act in the aircraft frame.

Technology has been advancing and, in 2007, the first all-electric two-seater test globally was cleared for takeoff, though mileage and carrying capacity were still a challenge, being tied to weight and available power.

Companies have been inching forward on commercial, electric flight. U.S.-based Ampaire’s “Electric EEL” hybrid aircraft underwent flight testing in Hawaii in late 2020, in a partnership with Mokulele Airlines, owned by Southern Airways, flying a remodeled Cessna 337 a total count of 31 miles (roughly 50 kilometres; 20 minutes) on a single charge.

A partnership of U.S.-based MagniX and British Columbia’s Harbour Air has been working with sea planes, pushing to be dubbed the world’s first, all-electric commercial airline. In December 2019, the partnership successfully flew an all-electric test plane out of Richmond, B.C.–a retrofitted DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver with a 750-horsepower all-electric motor, approved after meeting FAA and Transport Canada requirements. MagniX separately partnered with AeroTEC for the retrofit of a 10-passenger, single-engine Cessna for an all-electric flight out of an airport in Washington State, just across the Canada-U.S. border, flying for about 30 minutes before landing.

Rick Pilgrim, Co-founder and CEO, DuXion

The magic number for many onlookers is 500 miles (about 805 kilometres) as roughly 40 to 50 per cent of short-haul flights globally could be covered at this range. Regulators would need to account for contingencies there as well, but comfortably flying electric to this mark would be a breakthrough. In looking at where we are today, the idea would also be to see aircraft proven capable of going the distance in carrying not just one or two people, but something closer to the equivalent of 50 or 80-seat planes (like the De Havilland Dash 8 aircraft operated by Air Canada Jazz).

There is a great deal of work still ahead, including with the regulators to assure safe future flights and, now, with trial and error in technology development.

“It would be a great bar to make to have the world’s first electric jet,” Pilgrim said.

Apart from the jet project, DuXion is chasing greener designs with AKA for the marine sector. Pilgrim said AKA “have been leading hybridization of marine vessels since the ‘90s,” and he was pleased to also receive word this week a joint development of the two companies of a hybrid diesel-electric fuel system (the Split PM Hybrid Propulsion Motor Project) was receiving $1.1-million in support from Canada’s Ocean Supercluster program. The total project cost there is estimated at $1.8-million, with the rest coming from project partners. That project is expected to create 20 full-time positions along with indirect employment. •

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