Development of a system that detects electric arcs in aircraft

Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), together with Airbus Defence and Space (ADS), have developed a system that rapidly detects electric arcs in aircraft. This technological research project is being funded by the ADS with support from the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI, in its Spanish acronym) and will contribute to developing safer and cleaner aircraft.

Significant changes are being made to aircraft electrical systems in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from air transport. Among other things, pneumatic and hydraulic actuators are being replaced by electric motors. This results in an increase in the electrical power being produced and distributed by the aircraft.

Increasing conventional power voltage levels to higher values is necessary in order to deal with these power levels. These voltage magnitudes in equipment that operate at high altitudes result in undesirable ionisation processes, such as the appearance of electric arcs, due to the low air density. A phenomenon that can damage other electrical circuits and structural components.

This is why it is necessary to detect these electric arcs as quickly as possible, so that the circuit can be disconnected before it is damaged. This is the focus of the "High Power Switching System and Arc Detection for High Voltage and Direct Current Embedded Networks (HV-NET)" ("Sistema de conmutación alta potencia y detección de arcos para redes embarcadas de corriente continua y alta tensión (HV-NET)"), led by ADS with the participation of the UC3M’s Diagnosis of Electrical Machines and Insulating Material (DIAMAT, in its Spanish acronym) research group, including professors Guillermo Robles and Juan Manuel Martínez Tarifa.

The system currently under development allows electric arcs to be detected by means of a lightweight and low-cost sensor (essential in aerospace environments), designed specifically for this application as well as a signal processing system implanted in an acquisition card. In addition to the aerospace sector, the UC3M and Airbus project could be implemented into photovoltaic power plants.

With the results obtained thus far, the DIAMAT-ADS research team has applied for a European patent and are being considered to present their research at various international conferences and in magazines.

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