The students of the University of Ljubljana and the aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel develop the first electric aircraft charging station in the world

Publish Date: 23.10.2017

Category: News from the University

The successful cooperation between the University of Ljubljana and Pipistrel led to the development of a stationary charging station for electric aircraft which helps provide a positive environmental impact. At the end of august, the first electric charging station for aircraft in the world was tested at Pipistrel's headquarters and is now awaiting mass production.

The project, Taking a creative path to practical knowledge, was supervised by Vanja Čok, assistant PhD from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Ljubljana. The development team also consisted of the development engineer Aljaž Pelicon and the software engineer Črt Gorup, both from Pipistrel. The project saw the cooperation of three faculties from the University of Ljubljana; the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Faculty of Computer and Information Science and the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. This team, in collaboration with the aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, developed the prototype for the first electric aircraft charging station.  The goal of the project was the manufacturing and installation of a charging station for electric aircraft due to the need for a stationary charging system for electric aircraft.  

Flying with electric aircraft comes with many advantages (no emissions, less noise pollution, lower flying costs) and is in line with the goals of the European Union regarding transport and aviation. The work programme of Horizon 2020 "Smart, green and integrated transport" is one of the most important guidelines for reducing noise pollution and emissions in air traffic. The development and the creation of a network of stationary charging stations is an important step towards increasing the popularity and use of electric aircraft but, more importantly, it helps to increase the environmental awareness of pilots and passengers. The first charging station for electric aircraft represents a big milestone in the field of environmentally friendly air transport. 

The cooperation between the university and the economy is vital for the co-creation of new knowledge and for the acquisition of practical experience 

The cooperation between science and the economy is a very important aspect for the largest Slovenian university. The goal of this cooperation is an effective and modern transfer of knowledge and services into the economy and society at large. By participating in the project the students of the University of Ljubljana had the opportunity to develop a completely new product in an interdisciplinary team. During the development of the charging station they used the knowledge they acquired during classes. The added value of the project was an in-depth research of the current state in the first development phase of the project, where students researched a wide range of information (from the following fields: user psychology, ergonomics, technical specifications, legislation, software, electrical engineering, weathering, market and other). Vanja Čok, assist. PhD, the coordinator of the project and pedagogical supervisor from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Ljubljana described the collaboration with students with the following words: "By cooperating in the project our students got an insight into other disciplines, they developed competences in their professional field, acquired new communication skills, worked for a common goal and discovered how to solve technical challenges in a creative way".

Jaka Križ, a student from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Ljubljana who cooperated in the project added: "This type of projects help students acquire practical experience, which is something that is in high demand in today's labour market.  With these projects the transition from the university environment into a work environment becomes much easier."

The requirements were an easy-to-use and user-friendly charging station, a modern design, resistance to weathering, a high capacity level, a functional user interface and other advantages,” says Tine Černač, Jaka's partner in the project, also a student of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Ljubljana. "All the mentioned requirements were fulfilled, which can be clearly seen on the charging station," he adds proudly.
 

From the need for a charging station for electric aircraft to upcoming mass production 

Due to its maximum authorized on-board weight, battery chargers are not integrated in ultralight electric aircraft. This type of aircraft can be charged only through specialised stationary charging stations which contain all the required electrical circuits for charging battery packages, as well as the circuits which ensure the safety of users during the charging process. 

“During the market research we found out that stationary charging stations for electric aircraft had not yet been developed. Due to the specifics of the sector, the solutions which are available for electric cars are not the most suitable for electric aircraft,” says Vanja Čok, assist. PhD.   

The advantages of stationary charging stations in comparison to on-board chargers are numerous: 

  • it is not installed on board of the aircraft and the regulations regarding the maximum authorized weight do not apply to it, therefore it is possible to produce a high power charging station. Consequently, the aircraft can be charged faster. Fast charging is desirable particularly in aviation academies that want to maximize daily flight times;
  • it can be used by many users simultaneously. For example, at the airport many flying clubs can share the same electric aircraft charging station;
  • it is resistant to weathering and therefore suitable for outdoor use;
  • it offers a more user-friendly experience as it gives the user clear instructions on how to connect and later disconnect the electric aircraft from the charging station;
  • due to the considerable length of the wings and the relative difficulties in parking the aircraft the stationary charging station has longer charging cables. 

During the inauguration of the charging station at the end of this August, the aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel charged the electric aircraft Alpha Electro. 

Right now we charge all of Pipistrel's mass produced aircraft with the charging station. The station if fully equipped and it serves as a demonstrator for its later mass production,” said Aljaž Pelicon, an engineer at Pipistrel and work supervisor for the project about the current state of the electric charging station. 

The development department of Pipistrel will work on some additional improvements. The next step is testing at the Slovenian Institute of Quality and Metrology (SIQ), after which the charging station will undergo CE Marking certification. This will attest that the product has been evaluated and that it fulfils all EU requirements regarding safety, as well as health and environmental protection.  After the acquisition of the certificate the charging station will enter mass production.

"I am happy to have been part of a project which has a positive social and environmental impact. I am convinced that through the years it will improve the quality of life and consequently it will help reduce the pollution of the planet,” said Vanja Čok, assist. PhD. 

The following eight students of the University of Ljubljana cooperated in the project: 

Tine Černač, Andraž Papež, Erik Rojec, Jaka Križ and Luka Šparovec (Faculty of Engineering)
Rok Grmek and Jaka Kordež (Faculty of Computer and Information Science)
Roberta Cetina (Academy of Fine Arts and Design)
 

Photo by Taja Boscarol