Electric propulsion innovator Mako Aerospace is seeking fresh seed funding to support plans to get a prototype of a ducted-fan engine flying as part of a technology demonstration on a regional airliner. The UK-based startup has already bench-tested an early prototype of its Forerunner superconducting propulsion system, running it at just 1 percent of its anticipated power rating.
The work conducted so far by the five-strong team of aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineers has been funded with some $500,000 from California-based venture capital investors. Mako is now looking to increase the size of its Scotland-based workforce as it prepares to officially launch the Forerunner at an event in Edinburgh on October 22.
Founder and CEO Kieran Duncan told FutureFlight that Mako is focused on “unlocking the potential of near-term [propulsion] technology” while the industry awaits longer-term breakthroughs from ongoing investment in battery performance. “If you can achieve a high enough efficiency, you lower what is needed from the batteries enough to support a viable range of between 400 and 600 km,” he said.
The key to this efficiency is a superconductor that has no resistance to the electrical current. But for that to work, the conductor needs to be constantly cooled down to around 70 degrees Kelvin (-203.15 degrees C).
Mako claims this can be achieved by minimizing heat loss from its superconductor and using off-the-shelf cryogenic coolers that are already employed for ground-based power generation and ships. It believes this approach will allow it to support up to a five-fold improvement in performance over electric motors currently available for aviation applications.
In early discussions with possible customers, Mako has held talks with a mix of established aircraft manufacturers and other startups. Its focus is on supporting fixed-wing aircraft with nine or more seats, rather than on eVTOL vehicles.
Mako expects to offer direct-drive propulsion systems with power ratings of 800 kW and higher, with the potential to integrate its hardware with battery, hybrid-electric, or hydrogen energy systems. It envisions delivering peak power of just more than 1,600 kW, with some 1,000 kW for the climb phase of flight and optimal continuous power for cruise flight of less than 500 kW.
At the same time, the company is exploring ways to improve battery performance by making them a more integral part of the airframe, rather than by having to change their chemistry. “As you get batteries above 50 percent of the total mass of the aircraft, you can push the available range beyond 600 km,” Duncan explained. This, said Mako, would support scheduled flight connections between cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas with reductions in energy costs for airlines up to 70 percent.
Mako’s founders have been working on the concept for the Forerunner for more than six years, including while Duncan worked at aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce and some of his colleagues were at Airbus. After seeking to advance plans through academic collaborations, they opted to start their own company and seek venture capital backing.
Rolls-Royce and French aerospace group Safran are already working on electric propulsion systems. U.S.-based start-up MagniX is working to certify a family of electric motors that will initially be used to convert existing regional aircraft.