Green Aviation: Electrifying the Aviation Industry for a Greener Future

With electric road vehicles now more commonplace than ever, it has become even more pressing to find environmentally compatible ways to transport people and goods through the skies in an attempt to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Image Credit: Ivan Marc/

With the help of a team of researchers from MIT, the aviation industry could be handed a boost towards carbon emission reduction thanks to an electric megawatt motor that has the potential to electrify large aircraft. This is a significant development as, up until now, researchers across the globe have only been able to use similar technologies on smaller, lighter aircraft.

Propelling a large aircraft such as a commercial airliner through the sky would require a megawatt engine which could be paired with hybrid engine systems or electrical battery-driven components and fuel-turbine engines. This is where MIT comes in, showcasing an innovation that also opens the door to using sustainable fuels such as biofuels derived from renewable energy sources, including solar power.

Future Compatible Configurations

The MIT team has been working towards the creation of a 1-megawatt motor that can be integrated into a hybrid system, and what’s more, they are tackling two major hurdles when it comes to electrical motor systems: size and weight. The MIT megawatt motor and power electronics are claimed to weigh less than an average adult passenger at around the same size as a suitcase.

Having run sequences of advanced computations while developing the components of the 1-megawatt engine, the team believes that they can produce a system that could rival the size of engines currently powering much smaller aircraft. With the potential to pair the electrical motor with hybrid fuel-based systems, the team also sees the possibility of coupling the 1-megawatt engine with battery cells to create a complete electrical system that could drive the propellors of certain aircraft.

No matter what we use as an energy carrier — batteries, hydrogen, ammonia, or sustainable aviation fuel — independent of all that, megawatt-class motors will be a key enabler for greening aviation.

Professor Zoltan Spakovszky, T. Wilson Professor in Aeronautics and the Director of the Gas Turbine Laboratory (GTL), MIT

By combining a high-speed rotor and a series of magnets in varying polar configurations with a network of copper windings and a cutting-edge heat exchanger, the team has also managed to address any potential issues with heat transfer associated with torque when the electrical energy is converted to mechanical energy.

One of the other key breakthroughs of this project is that, when coupling the system to a conventional turbofan jet engine, the 1-megawatt engine can deliver electric propulsion at various stages of the aircraft’s flight, thus having a major impact on the greenhouse gas emissions being generated during a flight trajectory.

Aviation for the Future

The new 1-megawatt motor holds exciting promise with the potential to integrate the components into a hybrid system that runs on clean fuels, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the industry at large if scalability proves to be no issue.

In fact, the MIT team cites the ongoing climate crisis and global 2050 climate goals of net-zero emissions as key motivators for the project. With such an important goal in mind, the team has had to push the envelope and think outside of the box.

To do this means we have to push the boundaries in materials, manufacturing, thermal management, structures and rotordynamics, and power electronics.

Professor Zoltan Spakovszky, T. Wilson Professor in Aeronautics and the Director of the Gas Turbine Laboratory (GTL), MIT

By combining traditional techniques with cutting-edge technology, the MIT team has been able to blaze a new trail in electric machine development. The 1-megawatt engine is poised to meet the practical demands of future aviation developments in this area, one of which calls for low-carbon to carbon-neutral solutions using electric propulsion and clean fuel systems to achieve a greener future.

The next step is to show the proof-of-concept in action in a complete system to power mid-sized regional aircraft before moving on to tackling possible configurations for larger commercial liners.

References and Further Reading

  1. Chu, J. (2023) Megawatt electrical motor designed by MIT engineers could help Electrify Aviation, MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Available at:

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David J. Cross

Written by

David J. Cross

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.


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