The serena challenge: zero-emission flying with small electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft

Funded by the Ministry of Ecological Transition (MITE) with 2.5 million euros, the Serena project (Development of zero-emission propulsion architectures for general Aviation) was presented by the Aerospace Technological District (DTA) as lead partner in collaboration with its members Novotech, Enginsoft and UniSalento’s Department of Innovation Engineering.

In the experimentation, which will last 36 months, the Grottaglie Airport test bed will play a leading role. The new propulsion system will be developed in response to the requirements of the Seagull folding-wing seaplane (manufactured by Novotech), the prototype of which was partly built in the Avetrana plant.

For Michele Giannuzzi – an engineer at the DTA – “the project moves to support Puglia’s future Green Hydrogen Valley by developing cleaner, less noisy and more efficient aircraft to move within urban environments or from one airfield to another”. 

 The Ministry of Ecological Transition (MITE) has approved and admitted funding for 2.5 million euros from the European Resilience and Recovery Fund, the Serena project presented by the Aerospace Technological District (Dta) as lead partner in collaboration with Enginsoft Spa, Novotech Srl and the Department of Innovation Engineering of the University of Salento. 

The SERENA project aims to develop a prototype propulsion system for a General Aviation category aircraft based on hybrid power technologies (hydrogen-fuelled fuel cells, batteries and super-capacitors). Serena falls under the topic of fuel cells for Advanced Area Mobility (AAM) applications to allow the flying of small and medium-sized air taxis and unmanned aircraft with zero emissions. The Serena project will also investigate emerging storage and energy recovery technologies for reuse during flight and take-off, landing and taxiing. The propulsion system will have a 90 per cent lower climate impact than conventional systems. 

Michele Giannuzzi, Serena’s project manager, explains that ‘with this project, Dta, together with partners Enginsoft, Novotech and Unisalento, fully embraces the decarbonisation strategy underway in the international aeronautics sector and moves to support Puglia’s future Green Hydrogen Valley. In the wake of its industrial strategy, the District also responds programmatically to the needs that will emerge from the Advanced Air Mobility sector: i.e., to have cleaner, less noisy and more efficient aircraft – of the aero-taxi or unmanned type – with which to move within urban environments or from one airfield to another. 

Giannuzzi adds that ‘Serena will allow the definition of experimental practices for new-generation aircraft at the Grottaglie Airport Test Bed, a strategic infrastructure through which Dta aims to help companies develop new solutions and prospects in terms of aeronautical platforms and new services. The main spin-offs on the territory will concern: the creation of specific knowledge in a high-tech and strategic sector such as the hydrogen supply chain; an increase in investments; and the creation of highly qualified professional figures, thus increasing the competitive capacity of public and private entities established in the region’. 

 The activities that the project partners will carry out are:

DTA. The lead partner of the project will be responsible for: studying the reference context of advanced air mobility in which the solution will operate; studying the actual climatic impact of the proposed solution with the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and managing the entire project by exploiting and disseminating its results. 

NOVOTECH.  Small enterprise, the end user of the proposed solution with a plant in Avetrana, will be responsible for identifying the requirements for the definition and development of an electric propulsion system to be used in the General Aviation sector concerning the Seagull aircraft (seaplane with foldable wings capable, after ditching, of docking at any pier in the space of a boat berth); investigate the issues relating to the aeronautical certification of the components of which the electric propulsion system will consist; virtually integrate the propulsion system into the Seagull aircraft owned by Novotech. 

Department of Innovation Engineering at UniSalento. It will develop the modular propulsion system, and it will apply it to the reference aerial platform; it will design the experimental scale demonstrator; carry out the experimental tests of the scale demonstrator  

ENGINSOFT. A medium-sized company based in Mesagne and expert in the use of intensive calculation methodologies, it will deal with: numerical simulation for the certification of the energy storage and distribution system; development and verification of a digital twin of the propulsion system; development of a decision support system (DSS).