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Packing a Punch: This GE Engineer Is Designing a High-Tech ‘Suitcase’ for Electric Air Travel
Mar 02, 2023 | GE News
Satish Prabhakaran Th'05, who earned his PhD in electrical and computer engineering, is featured in GE's company news about his work to help solve one of the toughest engineering challenges of the modern day: electric air travel.
Prabhakaran graduated from Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth with a PhD for his cutting-edge research on the manufacturing process of microprocessors, the tiny chips in computer systems that perform arithmetic and logic operations.
Prabhakaran is heading up a team that is helping to solve one of the toughest engineering challenges of the modern day: electric air travel. Last year, GE Aerospace and NASA successfully tested components of a megawatt-scale hybrid electric aircraft engine in conditions simulating flight altitudes. They’re now looking forward to the mid-2020s, when they’ll perform a real flight demonstration to test that their hybrid system, which has the potential to vastly improve the efficiency and sustainability of air travel, is ready for the skies. With aviation accounting for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, hybrid electric propulsion technologies could do a lot to help bring the number down.
"Electricity is agnostic to the type of fuel that airplanes use, whether it’s gas, hydrogen, or liquid fuels. We’re defining a platform for electric propulsion that could be adaptable to any of those fuel choices and combinations we might make in the future."
Satish Prabhakaran Th'05, Technology Leader for Aviation Electric Propulsion at GE
Prabhakaran’s knowledge, experience, and leadership are integral to this era-defining platform. He’s a guru of power electronics, the branch of engineering that deals with the conversion of electricity into the right “flavor” for its end use. The hybrid system needs a robust and sophisticated power train to process the electricity produced by the airplane’s power plant — in this case, a gas turbine — which drives the craft’s propellers.
Since altitudes of 35,000 feet impose limits on space and weight, this crucial electronic componentry needs to be compact and light, explains Prabhakaran. “We’re actually aiming for the size of a suitcase,” he says.
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