By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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EPS adds Scott Drennan to board as it pursues ecosystem approach to electric aviation

Scott Drennan has joined the board of directors of Electric Power Systems (EPS) as the company expands its focus from developing lightweight, fast-charging batteries for electric aviation to also enabling sustainable power ecosystems for advanced air mobility.

Scott Drennan EPS
Scott Drennan speaking at HAI Heli-Expo 2019 about the Bell Nexus, which uses battery technology from EPS. Rob Reyno Photo

Drennan began working with the Logan, Utah-based company while serving as vice president of Innovation for Bell. There, he launched development of the Bell Nexus air taxi, for which EPS was selected to provide an energy storage system and battery management technology.

He left Bell for a brief stint in Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility division before striking out on his own last year with Drennan Innovation, an engineering and leadership consulting company focused on the air mobility industry.

Now, he will serve EPS in an “observing and advising role” as he joins co-founders Nathan Millecam and Randy Dunn, along with representatives from investors Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Safran Ventures, on the company’s board.

Although EPS has announced several high-profile aerospace customers — including Bell, NASA (for the X-57 Maxwell) and Embraer (for the electric Ipanema demonstrator) — the company has largely been working under the radar, with about 80 percent of its clients not yet in the public domain, according to senior business development and strategy manager Grace McGuire.

McGuire said the company’s “bread and butter” is electric aviation, with a roughly even split between fixed-wing and eVTOL customers, although it is also working on some industrial and automotive applications.

EPS Logan Utah
EPS’s new facility in Logan, Utah, offers plenty of room for growth as the company scales its operations. EPS Photo

According to Drennan, he was drawn to the company for two reasons. “My first reason was I just really believe in their product. They’ve got the safety, the cost, the performance, and the cycle time in those right spots, and I had always been impressed by EPS’s ability to provide electric power to air vehicles for those reasons,” he told eVTOL.com.

“But the piece that really drew me in was to see it expand from the air vehicle applications into an ecosystem where it really starts to make sense,” he continued. That ecosystem includes not only the aircraft batteries themselves, but also a supporting infrastructure that leverages used batteries to create “micro-grids” for economical fast charging.

As Randy Dunn explained, electric aircraft differ from most electric vehicles in that they are commercial assets that need to be in constant use.

“As soon as you’re done with a flight which might take most of the battery’s energy . . . you need to put it back into service within the next 15, 20 minutes,” he said. “A car, you probably charge it every night, and you don’t worry about it, and you probably only use a small percentage of the battery. So those batteries last for years, while in aviation the batteries are probably going to last a year.”

Batteries that are no longer acceptable for flight can still serve a valuable function as fast chargers — as eVTOL developer Beta Technologies is demonstrating with its modular charging platforms. EPS is designing its batteries to serve a second life in micro-grids that can charge urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles rapidly and economically, without the surcharges associated with placing excessive demand on the larger grid.

“What they do is they decouple the grid from the charging so that the grid’s constantly working at a background low rate,” Dunn explained. “And then when you plug your aircraft in and it charges, it charges from the battery, pretty quickly, without causing any issues with the grid.”

Ultimately, McGuire said, EPS envisions being a “one-stop shop for all your electric propulsion needs” — offering cost savings that could be critical to enabling UAM operations at scale.

“When you think about the longer-term picture, you don’t just have to get off the ground, you have to make a business case that sustains this whole new market,” Drennan noted. In his new role at EPS, “instead of me working on one vehicle or a set of vehicles for one company, I can really touch multiple stakeholders across the board, so I think that’s the most exciting piece,” he said.

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