The attainment of zero-CO2 emissions from aviation is an environmental necessity. Whilst the urgency of this is unquestionable, timely deliverability is the issue. The two principal hurdles are:
At Cormorant, we do not see ourselves as being leaders in the development of management thought. However, being vested in e-aviation we briefly write here regarding strategic decision deferral, which we summarize as:
A management decision-making approach, particularly relevant in times of dynamic technological and / or regulatory development, which seeks to consciously defer making key choices until the latest point practicable without affecting a project’s critical path, such that knowledge development and /or the evolution of the regulatory environment may proceed to the most advanced extent possible so that the likelihood of a correct decision is increased.
To illustrate this approach, we look at a question that we are often asked:
Which battery system are you going to use? – This is, obviously, a leading question that significantly presupposes the outcome. Given ongoing developments in potential CO2-zero energy storage solutions for aviation applications such as Cormorant, our position is best described as one of agnosticism whilst keeping a watching brief on developments in battery and other energy storage solutions. Deliberately Cormorant’s airframe can accommodate several energy storage possibilities. Obviously, we must select the optimal solution to progress initial certification with the regulatory authorities – the time to decide is not yet and will be addressed when such a decision lies on the critical path for Cormorant’s development. Beyond this it is entirely possible that more than one energy source and propulsion solution may be incorporated in different certified configurations of the aircraft.
Cormorant’s design has within its airframe some 550 dm3 of volume (550 kg of mass) allocated for energy storage. There is also space forward of the fan, in the thrust line, to accommodate power generating and / or energy management systems. Historically this would have been occupied for CO2-generating, aviation fossil fuel.
At the present phase in Cormorant’s development, as the aircraft has many other attractive selling points, we are deliberately ‘energy storage solution agnostic.’ That is, we are consciously deferring selection of the preferred energy storage solution until such time as this decision is critical to the progress of the aircraft. This is a benefit of our SEA design values that avoids us becoming wedded to a particular solution too early in what is a rapidly evolving area of technological progress; the risk of doing so is to expose us to a “fake it until you can make it” scenario where the pitfalls of too early a choice of a subsequently realized, suboptimal solution leads to a downward spiral of overpromising and under-delivering.
Here we briefly summarize where we are at with the two front-runners for ‘green’ energy storage in general aviation: batteries; and, the hydrogen fuel cell.
Within the short-term, there appear to be two principal routes to the storage of energy for smaller, zero CO2-emission at point-of-use, electrically powered aircraft. Here we briefly review some of the considerations for each.
As the above illustrates, there are many considerations and intangibles regarding the two front runners for potential green energy storage in aviation applications. We do not envy those projects that have made or are having to make such choices now. As Donald Rumsfeld when Secretary of Defense under George W Bush notably remarked in 2002: “…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Based on publicly available knowledge and the number of current ‘known unknowns’ (let alone any ‘unknown unknowns’) impacting leading potential green energy storage solutions for e-aircraft, it is not unreasonable to suggest that firmly committing to one solution at present is akin to a game of roulette, The stakes for individual projects, appropriately for aviation, are sky high.
Some projects take the betting analogy to a rarefied level.
These ‘exotic’ projects play roulette sequentially with all their winnings, betting on the success of all known unknown outcomes. They may thus be proposing, for example, a specific green energy storage / power system; a novel propulsion system; autonomous flight in areas of dense population; and more – all innovative, having to satisfy the reasonable demands of regulators devising new standards as necessary, let alone relying on multiple applications of new technologies to deliver promised outcomes, whilst satisfying the expectations of investors who may have provided many hundreds of millions of € or $ in funding.
It may not be unreasonable to suggest that, for some of these highly marketed, ‘exotic’ projects that a real objective might be to serve as knowledge / expertise magnets such that they can function as e-aviation centers of excellence to survive and develop beyond any current project abandonment. They may then perhaps use their expertise, IP etc. to take advantage of and exploit other opportunities developing in the e-aviation sphere.
For readers good enough to have read this far, we might now answer the original question, somewhat reworded, hypothetically. Let us assume that we have today (February 16, 2022) successfully demonstrated an electrically powered Cormorant flying proof-of-concept prototype to the satisfaction of all stakeholders; the question as we contemplate ‘freezing’ the design such that it may progress through the regulatory certification process is – Which energy storage system is to be used?
The three proactive options in no particular order are:
The risks of pursuing either option 1.1. or 1.2. at the time of writing would present too many ‘known unknowns’ that can all too easily enter us into a terminally expensive regulatory or technological cul-de-sac, proving fatal for the project. The certification process would thus commence as the ‘grey’ option, likely using a turbofan propulsive unit. Those customers intending to buy this configuration would be offered retrofit options such that their ‘grey powered’ aircraft could be reconfigured to ‘green powered’ at a future point. Which green route to be selected would depend on having a satisfactory level of certainty for the strategic decision to be made to proceed that option to certification.
Wherever practical, key strategic decisions should result in outcomes that are themselves adaptable and flexible. From a safety perspective, the electrification of aviation requires regulatory catch-up in most innovators’ opinions. For these original projects, management of this uncertainty whilst also incorporating technological progress in specific energy storage are crucial risk management challenges. Adding layers of to-be-regulated complexity is an invitation to delay and more likely failure. Embedding the required, currently subject to regulatory development, electric propulsion technology is therefore a sufficient goal for most projects with incremental improvements in design being useful add-ins. History is littered with visionary projects that have failed due to being overly innovative, complex, or ‘ahead of their time’; technical innovation can prove to be a blind alley for many ‘exotic’ projects.
Vanity projects, or at least projects ahead of their time, are nothing new. A relatively unknown example of an advanced transportation system being from 1903: the ‘Zossen’ high-speed electric train. Running on a 23 km section of specially adapted track with three-phase AC overhead energy supply, it held the world rail speed record of 210 km / h for half a century – and provided an expensive glimpse of the future but was at a dead-end at the time. Its technology had to wait for both AC electricity technology to mature, and associated infrastructure to be built and standardized over subsequent decades. To be kind, maybe ‘Zossen’ was genuinely conceived of as a project to demonstrate what the future could hold and increase knowledge. The message for entrepreneurial companies in a highly regulated sector such as aviation is germane: do not build something that is undeliverable – too many projects bypass the market and end up in museums.
When made, most strategic decisions require the commitment of significant resources. In a dynamically developing environment, using the most up-to-date relevant information available is critical to enhancing success. Where decision outcomes depend on those developments, deferring decision-making to the latest practical point within a project is vital – this allows the minimization of uncertainty at the time by, to use Donald Rumsfeld’s terminology, allowing the most known unknowns to mature into known knowns.
Decisions can still of course be wrong, but they are less likely to be so.
‘Strategic decision deferral’ is not an excuse for inaction, rather it is taking key actions at the right time. The right time is when the making of such a decision enters the project’s critical path and technological, regulatory (and market – more on this in a later post) knowledge evolution has been allowed to develop to the maximum.
As previously mentioned, the ability to pursue such a ‘safe’ (or ‘safer’) route to market is borne out of the flexibility that our SEA design values gives Cormorant. Not only does it allow us to offer an aircraft with a large, adaptable, readily reconfigurable cabin volume to undertake a variety of mission types across market segments, but also, critically in the context of this post, it enables deferment of strategic decisions affected by technological developments and their regulation, positive procrastination if you will, such that the greatest amount of current information is available before irreversible or costly choices are made. It has resulted in an aircraft design that has flexibility and adaptability at its core; including in its energy storage and power system – permitting reconfiguration if necessary. Strategic decision deferral, used proportionately, is embedded within and is therefore an important integral part of our SEA design values.
 Siddiqui, Faiz (2021, August 4), While they were asleep, their Teslas burned in the garage. It’s a risk many automakers are taking seriously., The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/04/tesla-fire/ – accessed 14/02/2022
 Irfan, Umair (2014, December 18), How Lithium Ion Batteries Grounded the Dreamliner, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-lithium-ion-batteries-grounded-the-dreamliner/ – accessed 14/02/2022
 As at What is a lithium-ion battery and how does it work?, Clean Energy Institute, University of Washington, https://www.cei.washington.edu/education/science-of-solar/battery-technology/ – accessed 15/02/2022
 See footnote 12
 Summarized at “WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR WASTE Batteries – Wet and dry cell, rechargeable and single-use” https://erp-recycling.org/learning-centre/what-happens-to-your-waste/batteries/#:~:text=Most%20types%20of%20batteries%20contain,be%20recovered%20and%20re%2Dused
 As at “IBM announces battery technology breakthrough” – https://www.techrepublic.com/article/ibm-announces-battery-technology-breakthrough/
 As under development by e.g., NEI Corporation – https://www.neicorporation.com/products/batteries/solid-state-electrolyte/
 Shao, Gaofeng et al (2020, September 24), Polymer-Derived SiOC Integrated with a Graphene Aerogel As a Highly Stable Li-Ion Battery Anode, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2020, 12, 41, 46045–46056, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acsami.0c12376 – accessed 14/02/2022
 As under development by e.g., Li-S Energy – https://www.lis.energy/site/li-s-energy-applications/li-s-energy-battery
 As at Sion Power (2021, August 4), Sion Power Introduces a Full-Scale Rechargeable Battery Targeting the Electric Vehicle Industry, Over 400 Wh/kg and 810 WHO/L https://sionpower.com/2021/sion-power-introduces-a-full-scale-rechargeable-battery-targeting-the-electric-vehicle-industry-over-400-wh-kg-and-810-wh-l/ – accessed 15/02/2022
 As at Li-S Energy Here are the key advantages of Lithium-sulphur battery technology https://www.lis.energy/site/li-s-energy-applications/lithium-sulphur-key-advantages#Greater-Energy-Capacity – accessed 15/02/2022
 Early concerns regarding lithium batteries were, for example, summarized by the EASA in 2017 – EASA (2017, March 27) SPECIAL CONDITION LSA Propulsion Lithium Batteries https://www.easa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/dfu/SC-LSA-Fx2480_LSA-Propulsion-battery-id1_19052017%20Final.pdf
 Siemens Energy LLC (2021), Green Hydrogen: Cornerstone of a sustainable energy future [White Paper]. Retrieved from and downloadable at https://www.siemens-energy.com/mea/siemens-energy-in-middle-east/company/megaprojects/dewa-green-hydrogen-project.html#Download
 Quote from Section 6 ‘Conclusion’ of Final Report [re Hydrogen Fuel Cells] of Energy Supply Device Aviation Rulemaking Committee to Federal Aviation Administration Executive Director, Aircraft Certification Service and Executive Director, Office of Rulemaking (08/12/2017) p 35 – https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/committees/documents/media/Energy%20Supply%20Device%20ARC%20Recommendation%20Report.pdf
 Quote from Section 6.3 ‘What is the highest priority for the airworthiness authorities so they can facilitate certification of fuel cell systems?’ of Final Report [re Hydrogen Fuel Cells] of Energy Supply Device Aviation Rulemaking Committee to Federal Aviation Administration Executive Director, Aircraft Certification Service and Executive Director, Office of Rulemaking (08/12/2017) p 38 – https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/committees/documents/media/Energy%20Supply%20Device%20ARC%20Recommendation%20Report.pdf
 See “Test runs at world-record speed – The Zossen high-speed railcar reaches 210 kilometers per hour”, Siemens https://new.siemens.com/global/en/company/about/history/stories/speed-world-record-1903.html – accessed 15/02/2022
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