Is electric flying the future?October 28, 2019
The demand for airplanes is gigantic to cope with the increasing number of passengers. By 2037, the number of passengers is expected to double to around seven billion.
Conventional aircraft turbines are constantly evolving and have become much more energy efficient, resulting in lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Although modern aircraft have become more environmentally friendly and efficient, this will have consequences for the climate balance. Important issues such as climate change, environmental protection and noise emissions create pressure for innovation throughout industry. And it should not be forgotten that the price of kerosene is one of the biggest cost factors on airlines’ balance sheets. Is the aviation industry, like the car industry, on the brink of fundamental change?
Is electric flying the future? The topic is increasingly coming into focus. How realistic is that and where are the problems?
The focus of research and development is on electric drives whose electricity is generated either from renewable sources such as the sun and wind or from fuel cells. The first steps have already been taken and smaller aircraft can already be flown purely electrically so that they do not emit any emissions.
One example is the E-Fan, a two-seater, all-electric Airbus aircraft that crossed the Channel between France and England in 36 minutes in 2015. Electrically powered flying taxis are the hype at the moment.
What is certain is that the future of electric passenger jets flying around the world with hundreds of passengers is still a long way off. There are still too many unresolved technical problems. Just as with electric cars, the low efficiency of the batteries prevents larger jumps in the air and, above all, larger airplanes. Electric aviation will probably initially be operated with relatively few seats at regional level.
The large aircraft manufacturers are already in the starting blocks. Norway is even planning zero-emission air traffic in 2040. From then on it should be possible to operate domestic flights exclusively with electricity. The US company Boing also plans to build hybrid-electric aircraft.
Airbus is working on a joint project with Siemens and the British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, among others. The goal is to equip a 100-seater regional aircraft with a hybrid electric powertrain for the first time by 2020.
Externally, these airplanes could differ from conventional ones, for example by doing without a propeller. “It’s not just about avoiding CO2, it’s also about reducing noise.
Skeptics still warn against too much euphoria because the batteries are still very heavy. Nevertheless, not only the two heavyweights Airbus and Boeing are working on electric flying, but also countless start-ups on flying taxis and drones – all of which have electric motors.
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