2nd Generation Motor for Large Electric Aircraft Propulsion Systems

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Toluca Lake, California
Project Term:
03/17/2021 - 09/16/2024

Critical Need:

It is estimated that flights on narrow-body aircraft are responsible for nearly half of aviation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A decarbonized, narrow-body aircraft with electrified propulsion would provide the greatest impact on GHG emissions from a single aircraft type. ARPA-E seeks to mitigate the growing environmental burden associated with commercial air travel at minimum economic cost by developing elements of an ultra-high efficient aircraft propulsion system that uses carbon neutral liquid fuels (CNLFs). It is anticipated that the developed lightweight and high-efficiency all-electric powertrains will find direct application in the emerging urban air mobility, unmanned aircraft aerial vehicle, and select regional aircraft markets. These markets are likely to be the first adopters before the technology scales to a single-aisle aircraft.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Wright Electric will design a high-efficiency and torque-dense electric powertrain that combines innovations in integrated cooling, power electronics, and rotor design. Co-developing these critical elements will enable Wright to achieve the target efficiency and weight metric and lead to a scalable solution. The design will create a high-performance motor without sacrificing safety or the use of existing manufacturing techniques. The team plans to use an aggressive in-slot cooling strategy coupled with a high-frequency inverter whose efficiency may exceed 99.5%. The unique innovations across the electric engine will push forward the development of all-electric aircraft.

Potential Impact:

The ASCEND program has the potential to accelerate innovations and cause disruptive changes in the emerging electric aviation field.


The program will further enhance U.S. technology dominance in the field of high-performance electric motors for hybrid electric aviation. Electrified aircraft architectures can increase reliability by increasing redundancy.


An all-electric propulsion system operating on CNLF would have net-zero emissions and be much quieter for passengers and people in the vicinity of airports.


By targeting propulsion system efficiency and specific power improvements, CNLF-powered, zero-net emission aircraft will be capable of a longer range and reduced fuel cost, making them economically more attractive.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Peter de Bock
Project Contact:
Colin Tschida
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