H3X startup has motor drives that could help electrify flight

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — When they first came together during a college competition at the University of Wisconsin, three friends eschewed the school’s three decades of internal combustion racing history and instead formed its first electric racing team.

Their inexperience was no hindrance.

“We threw ourselves into the deep end,” said Max Liben. “It was, ‘All right, how do you make an electric vehicle?’ ”

From that formative turn in the 2017 Formula SAE electric competition, Liben and his cohorts, Jason Sylvestre and Eric Maciolek, quickly learned. As a result of that competition and another the following year, they founded their own company based on those underpinnings.

The startup aims to pack a lot of power into a lightweight package by developing high-performance integrated motor drives that combine the motor, inverter and gearbox into a single unit in a cohesive fashion they say is unlike anything else available today, offering lighter weight and more power density.

The use cases for such products cross industries. H3X foresees use in motorsports and marine applications, which have lower barriers to entry, for starters. Over the long term, its ambitions are squarely set in aviation and aerospace.

While electrification in the automotive industry is maturing, with a growing variety of EV models for sale and even more on the way, efforts to electrify the aviation industry as part of global decarbonization endeavors, by contrast, are much more fledgling.

For Liben, the company’s chief technology officer, that’s part of the appeal.

He realized automotive electrification systems were becoming commoditized during an internship at Tesla.

“The costs are really coming down,” he said. “We wanted to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s physically possible with currently available manufacturing technology and materials, because that is what is necessary to get electric flight off the ground.”

There’s no single leap that makes that possible, Liben says. Rather it’s incremental across-the-board iterations and improvements over today’s motors and inverters that allow for a ballpark power density of 3 to 4 kilowatts per kilogram.

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