MACA, a French startup primarily based in southeast France, unveiled its Carcopter, a hydrogen-powered flying Formula-1 at CES 2021 final week. Founders Thierry de Boisvilliers, and Michael Krollak, each veterans from Airbus Helicopters, purpose at making a Formula 1-type competitors for flying vehicles to speed up innovation within the zero-emission VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) market whereas producing revenues from the racing enterprise.

The concept to design a race VTOL automobile got here to former fighter pilot Thierry de Boisvilliers and former Airbus Helicopters government Michael Krollak whereas working at Airbus, an aerospace and VTOL innovation chief. “A new page of the aeronautical history is being written today, and we want to be part of it,” stated de Boisvilliers.

During my dialog with the Carcopter designers, I realized that MACA is supported by ClearTech, a startup incubator devoted to scrub vitality primarily based within the Aix-en-Provence area (Arbois), close to the French Riviera. MACA was a part of the French Tech delegation at CES 2021.

As the buyer drone market reveals, improvements fly so much quicker than laws, and new applied sciences result in new insurance policies. When it involves the aerospace business, main public security issues are inclined to decelerate the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approvals. The first business drone supply accepted by the FAA befell on July 17, 2015. Five years later, the UPS drone companies, the primary FAA-approved drone airline, are nonetheless minimal, and Amazon has just lately obtained its FAA clearance for trial flights.

We want varied avenues to speed up the rising flying automobile sector if we hope to see a world like Blade Runner in our close to future. Designing an F1-type race for high-performance VTOL autos seems to be like an excellent concept for that objective.

How Does the MACA Carcopter Work and When Will It Race?

MACA expects to fly its second prototype at about 246 km/h on the finish of 2021 and launch the primary race with the ultimate product in 2023

The MACA crew is designing a 5.5 m (18 ft) lengthy prototype that can weigh lower than 600 kg (1,322 lbs) and is predicted to fly for the primary time on the finish of the 12 months.

MACA constructed the earlier prototype at a 3rd of the ultimate Carcopter’s measurement (about 2m lengthy) to validate the idea and the system’s structure by the French authorities’s aerospace lab ONERA (Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales). According to ONERA’s evaluation, the full-size Carcopter will attain a most pace of about 246 km/h.

Co-founder Thierry de Boisvilliers says that the second prototype may ship 35 minutes of autonomy, however not at most pace. Both founders will pilot their new flying race automotive and count on to launch the primary flying Formula 1-type competitors in 2023.

Editor’s notice: prototype’s specs might change over time because the design course of is ongoing.

Six hydrogen-powered 35 kW electrical motors and 6 rotors

The MACA Carcopter options hydrogen gasoline cells producing electrical energy for six 35 kW electrical motors that energy six rotors. The rotors are grouped by pairs in three areas (see picture). Each rotor of the identical pair is stack on prime of the opposite and spins in the other way: three spin clockwise (CW) and the opposite three spin counterclockwise (CCW).

A flight controller much like those utilized in multi-rotor drones

Like drones, the Carcopter is provided with a flight controller (FC), aka the “brain,” a small circuit board with a processor that directs every motor’s RPM in response to enter.

The pilot onboard the MACA machine triggers the enter utilizing a management stick. That’s much like drones that obtain inputs of their onboard FCs through distant controls operated by people on the bottom.  The flight controller is vital to precisely management a multi-rotor plane’s conduct from the management inputs, whether or not the pilot is onboard or on the bottom.

A carbon and linen airframe

To obtain a light-weight, the airframe is manufactured from carbon. MACA’s founders wish to add linen to the ultimate product to scale back the burden additional and to restrict the influence on the surroundings. “The automotive industry is increasingly using linen in car manufacturing,” stated co-founder Thierry de Boisvilliers.

Why Choose Hydrogen Fuel Cell Over Electric Battery for a VTOL racing automobile?

How does a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) works?

A Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) makes use of electrical energy to energy an electrical motor. Contrary to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), aka all-electric autos, it doesn’t retailer {the electrical} vitality in a battery pack however as a substitute makes use of a gasoline cell powered by hydrogen saved in a tank to supply its electrical energy. Most hydrogen-powered autos emit solely water and warmth and are labeled as zero-emission – extra info on how an FECV works right here and on the graphic beneath.

Graphic courtesy of Volkswagen.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs. Lithium-ion battery: greater vitality density, higher endurance, and higher lifespan

In plane expertise, weight is vital; that’s the reason hydrogen gasoline cell is the MACA founders’ most well-liked vitality supply for his or her FCE flying Formula 1.

Hydrogen delivers far superior vitality density, higher endurance, and higher life span than lithium-ion batteries. Most importantly, gasoline cells don’t require uncommon earth parts.

Lithium-ion is extensively used as an reasonably priced answer for brief distances in all-electric plane designs by the air mobility business. Still, it’s not gentle sufficient for VTOL autos flying lengthy distances in peri-urban zones. According to a analysis article printed by Wanyi Ng and Anubhav Datta in 2019 on ARC, “For any mission beyond 50 miles, fuel cells appear to be a compelling candidate [for eVTOL]”. An evaluation shared by Urban Aeronautics founder Rafi Yoeli, who stated that hydrogen is the one method to make flying vehicles viable.

In order to retailer the hydrogen gasoline in a tank, it must be compressed or supercooled to a liquid. Both options usually are not low cost and lose vitality within the course of. However, in the case of Formula 1 racing, efficiency wins over saving cash.

According to a latest article by Billy Wu, lithium-ion batteries produce about 250 Wh/Kg. On the opposite hand, hydrogen gasoline (H2) may obtain 33,000 Wh/kg relying on the particular expertise. Another supply factors to a possible vitality density of about 44,000 Wh/kg (Watt-hour per kilogram).

According to Aviation Today, “HyPoint, a venture-funded company in Menlo Park, has demonstrated an air-cooled fuel cell powertrain that delivers 1000 Watts per kilogram of specific power with an energy of 530 Wh/kg“. The Menlo Park startup achieves more than double the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries. Dedicated to air transportation, the next version of Hypoint’s hydrogen fuel cell technology is expected to reach 2,000 W/kg and 960 Wh/kg by 2022, with a market release in 2023. HyPoint signed a partnership deal with Urban Aeronautics for its hydrogen VTOL CityHawk craft.

Other battery technologies are under development, such as sodium-ion (Na-ion) or lithium-sulfur (Li-S). OXYS Energy expects to achieve 500 Wh/kg by the end of the year with its Li-S battery prototype for eVTOL.

Fuel cell technology delivers roughly as much power with a full 40 kg hydrogen tank as a 150 to 200 kg lithium-ion battery pack – that is a rough approximation, and it can vary depending on the specific technologies“, said co-founder Michael Krollak.

The MACA team would neither mention specific technologies nor describe more Carcopter’s technical specifications. Winning a motorsport race is all about designing the best machine for the best pilot, and racing teams cannot reveal their secret sauce.

Hydrogen tank vs. charging station: faster refueling time

Quick refueling time is another crucial advantage of Fuel Cell. It takes minutes to fill a hydrogen tank, while fully electric vehicles require 30 minutes to several hours for a full charge (depending on the charging station and battery capacity). We can imagine that flying race cars would have several fully charged lithium-ion battery packs ready for the swap during a competition. The question is which process would take longer, fueling a hydrogen tank or swapping a battery?

Flying F1 race: which competitors could race the MACA Carcopter in 2023?

The French startup’s ultimate goal is to launch a unique flying car race with “made in MACA” guidelines. MACA’s roadmap signifies that the Carcopter shall be able to race by 2023, however in opposition to which groups?

MACA founders envision a race with 5 or extra MACA Carcopters, or competing in opposition to the present firms growing electrical Formula 1 for the skies, similar to Australian startup Alauda Aeronautics and its stunning Airspeeder, or the Big Drone by DCL.

The French startup is at present in search of further investments, or they might promote a number of of its flying autos to rich motorsports aficionados, beginning at €500K a unit (or extra) – they already obtained a name from a possible purchaser.

Why are lithium batteries the present most well-liked vitality storage medium over hydrogen for electrical vehicles?

Despite its greater vitality density, long-range (~300 miles in 2020), and quick refueling time, hydrogen (H2) for vehicles will not be extensively obtainable within the United States in comparison with lithium-ion. The purpose: the hydrogen storage and supply infrastructure price way more than the charging stations linked to the grid. The lack of infrastructure makes an FCEV 4 to eight occasions extra pricey per kilometer than a BEV, based on funding agency Triple Point.

Today in America, hydrogen as an vitality supply for business vehicles is usually utilized in California, the place producers check the expertise’s market viability. The U.S. authorities is options to deal with the hydrogen storage challenges. Researchers examine the trail to low-cost hydrogen transportation through liquid hydrogen, they usually count on ~$4.3 to $8 per kilometer round 2030. Despite the difficulties, the hydrogen infrastructure is rising worldwide.

Since 2010, the price of a lithium-ion battery per okWh has dropped by nearly 90%, from $1,183 in 2010 to simply $156 in 2019. The infrastructure and electrical energy manufacturing prices usually are not included on this calculation.

Lithium-ion vs. hydrogen: a heated debate amongst automotive producers

The heated debate remains to be ongoing amongst automotive producers, Toyota and Honda are betting on hydrogen, whereas Tesla and Volkswagen favor all-electric autos. BMW and Hyundai are growing each options in parallel.

In a latest article, citing a examine by Horváth & Partners, Volkswagen explains why batteries and never gasoline cells are higher for vehicles. According to the German automaker, the three foremost causes in opposition to FCEVs are:

  1. the inferior effectivity of hydrogen as an vitality storage answer (see graphic beneath)
  2. the present superior complete price of fueling a automobile with hydrogen
  3. the upper influence on the surroundings as a result of hydrogen is at present produced primarily from pure gasoline, till alternate renewable vitality sources might be extensively used.

However, many consultants advocate in favor of hydrogen for different purposes, similar to industrial processes, heavy-duty autos (vehicles, trains, ships), and long-distance VTOL flights.

Last May, Tesla introduced the upcoming launch of its new low-cost and low-cobalt / cobalt-free battery expertise for its Model 3 sedan. On December 8, 2020, Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape revealed an SSD Li-ion battery for electrical autos in a position to recharge to about 80% of capability in quarter-hour, with a 12 years life span and a minimum of 300 miles vary in regular driving circumstances.

Asia might maintain the important thing to the potential success of hydrogen as an environmentally pleasant vitality answer for vehicles. In the meantime, you may speculate on the long run by studying this latest report on the worldwide gasoline cell autos market 2020-2030.

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