Electric Aircraft: What’s the Possibility of Fully-electric aeroplane?

If that trend continues, then aviation is going to become one of the top polluters in all industry sectors.

Susan Ying, Senior Manager, Ampaire

Electric aircraft are often mentioned as a potential solution to the airline industry’s need to reduce its carbon impact. While air travel is predicted to quadruple in the next two decades, the industry is lagging behind other modes of transportation in its efforts to transition to a carbon-free future. This is a problem.

Investment in fully- or hybrid-electric propulsion for aero planes has increased over the past several years as a result of the automotive sector and contemporary transportation trends. Numerous scientific and popular publications claim that storing electric energy in batteries offers a clean new world with minimum environmental impact and tremendous chances for economic progress. The expansion of air travel is readily seen, and the future seems bright. Global market forecasts from Airbus foresee the sale of about 37,000 planes in the next 20 years. It has been shown that air transportation is only marginally influenced by global crises, hence long-term market forecasts can be more accurate.

Fully electric flying for big planes is at least a few decades off in the future. Using today’s batteries, a jumbo aircraft would need 1.2 million pounds of batteries to produce the power of the jet engine this would be replacing. To transport this weight, an extra eight jet jets would be required.  As a result, electric aircraft research is putting a lot of effort into overcoming the constraints of battery technology. Private businesses and governments all across the globe are building on what has worked in the past to get things going in the right direction.

To some extent, electrically driven scale models have been flying since the 1970s; in this sense, they may be seen as precursors to today’s tiny unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as “drones”), which can be found in a variety of applications. French army personnel attempted to use electricity to drive an airship in the late 1800s, but their battery was unable to contain enough power to move their aircraft. A situation like this would continue to plague the world for the next 100 years. Despite the development of nickel-cadmium batteries, the first electric-powered aircraft was only able to fly for around 15 minutes before it crashed. Eventually, in the 1980s, lithium-ion batteries were developed. Aircraft like the Solar Impulse 2 might make use of this since they could store far more energy than previously possible. The solar-powered aero-plane spent 16 months flying around the globe at an average speed of 28 to 34 mph beginning in 2015.

The development of electric aircraft is being driven by the environmental impact of aviation on climate change, with some teams aiming for an electric engine that produces no carbon dioxide emissions whatsoever. CO2 emissions from aircraft rose by 32% between 2013 and 2018, accounting for 2.4% of all fossil fuel-derived emissions. Non-CO2 consequences of aircraft are difficult to estimate, although NOx and contrails might boost this duty to 3.5%. Another advantage is the ability to reduce noise pollution and abatement in an industry with significant noise pollution and pollution issue. The result of this is that several well-known international organisations have begun working on electric aircraft development. Several private firms, such as Tesla, are making significant investments in electric flying to gain market share. Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims that his company’s batteries will reach the required power density for electric aircraft by 2023.

Recently, an electric aircraft made history at a big airport surrounded by countryside in northern Washington State. Powered only by electricity, it is the largest commercial jet ever to take off and fly in the skies. Crowds of witnesses chanted and shouted as it flew over Grant County International Airport for 30 minutes on 28 May. At most, nine people could fit in the plane, which was adapted to accommodate that number of passengers. In addition, the aircraft’s sole interior feature was a single seat for the pilot. A long leap from the 200-300-seater aircraft that takes passengers on weekend city getaways or business travels, much alone the massive double-decker flights that span the continent. However, the “eCaravan” test flight, on the other hand, went quite well. The electric motor was provided by AeroTEC and magniX, the two firms behind the project who are thrilled with the result. It is a continuation of prior tests with smaller planes that were also powered by magniX’s electric motor.

The number of watt-hours (Wh) per kilogramme (kg) is a common unit of measurement for describing energy density. The energy density of a lithium-ion battery nowadays may approach 250 Wh/kg, whereas the energy density of jet fuel, or kerosene, is over 12,000 Wh/kg. An electric jet capable of flying for 500 kilometres is presently being developed by engineers. Using a partnership between EasyJet and the aviation start-up Wright Electric, a prototype jet is being designed and developed to enter commercial service as early as 2030. Although it would only fly short-haul routes of 1,500 km or less, such as Paris to London, it is estimated that short-haul narrow-body aircraft account for a third of all aviation emissions, as per management experts Roland Berger. The environmental effect of flying might be considerably reduced by progressively introducing electric planes, which might replace conventional aeroplanes on these short-hop excursions. There is a fundamental problem with electric aeroplanes, and it has everything to do with energy density. In the beginning, it would seem that electric aircraft had little chance of competing. A more efficient electric power system means that the vehicle can go more kilometres on the same amount of fuel. This is not as stark a difference as it seems. As it stands right now, though, fossil fuel systems are still around 14 times as energy-dense as their battery-powered counterparts. Batteries, unlike fluids that slosh about, are also inconvenient in terms of their structure and size. The most essential thing to remember is that long-distance flights in big aircraft will not be entirely powered by electricity very soon. Even if it happens this century, it is not likely to happen in the next 50 years.