Two UNSW Sydney researchers in collaboration with industry partners have been awarded $3 million in funding from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) program. This is part of a $12.8 million project that will convert a turboprop plane to electric propulsion, providing regional commuter services.

UNSW Senior Lecturer Dr Branislav Hredzak and Professor John Fletcher at the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications secured the funding from Round 13 of the CRC Project scheme, for the project 'Electric Conversion to Fast Track Zero Emissions Commercial Aviation', together with Dovetail Electric Aviation, Sydney Seaplanes, Memko Aviation, Aerospace and Defence and CSIRO.

The project will develop, flight test and certify the conversion to electric propulsion of a turboprop aircraft, which will make regional commuter services eco-friendlier and more affordable with a focus on emissions-free aircraft for use on regional routes in the future.

“As Australia seeks to meet its emissions objectives, electric aircraft have the potential to revolutionise regional transportation. Without needing to transit through a central hub, it will provide a convenient and quick means of transportation for residents of more remote areas. In order to reduce pollution and, in some cases, the high costs associated with energy, we should make the conversion to electric power whenever possible,” Dr Hredzak said.

Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic announced $44 million in grants on 19 January for Australian companies to support 19 collaborative projects with researchers and innovators in the latest round of CRC-P program funding. CRC-P Grants support short-term collaborative research projects Australia-wide.

Head of School Professor Julien Epps said he was pleased to see UNSW researchers recognised for this ground-breaking project, which is developing technology to convert turbine-powered aircraft to electric propulsion for net-zero aviation.

“Australia’s transition to clean energy presents many challenges. The UNSW School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications has great research expertise in clean energy and is proud to be partnering to tackle the challenge of converting turboprop aircraft to fully electric propulsion,” Prof. Epps said.

“This research and development project will make regional commuter services greener and cheaper, and pave the way for the electrification of air transport.”

A flight plan for the electrification of air transport

Regional airports serve few passengers, but their importance increases by making flying smaller aircraft greener and more affordable with electrification.

The CRC-P grant will accelerate the certification for passenger service, making it more economical than a new aircraft. This will address an important market niche, enabling longer-range flights with battery improvements.

“We are incredibly excited to be a partner on this ground-breaking project to electrify air travel. The true impact of this project will be in regional and rural Australia who might be the first Australian communities to benefit from sustainable aviation,” Prof. Fletcher said.

“There is a long way to go and this CRC-P award is the first steps in realising a proof of concept at the scale necessary for regional air travel.”

You can read the full list of CRC-P grants for 2023.