Using plane is the safest form of traveling, even if it doesn’t look like that. Every day, more and more people are using planes, as sometimes it is the only form how to transfer from place A to place B. By 2050, aircraft industry is expecting a seven-fold increase in air traffic and a four-fold increase in a greenhouse gas emissions unless significant changes are made. What these significant changes will be and how they will effect aircrafts?
Making aircraft industry greener is very difficult. The best and crucial step towards this is full electrification of commercial planes. That means, zero CO2 and NOx emissions, with energy which is sourced from power stations that are themselves sustainable fueled. And here is already the first problem. In order to make this happen, we would need to overcome the energy density of batteries – measure of how much power can be generated from a battery of a certain weight.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said on MIT AeroAstro Contennial Symposium:
“To have compelling aircraft you only really need about 400 Watt-hours per kilogram. It doesn’t have to be nowhere near as it is on the rocket. If it sort of at the 70 percent level at 400 Watt-hours per kilogram you can do very decent range.”
Elon Musk – Electric Airplane (Video):
Practical lithium-ion batteries, that are on the market now are capable of approximately 300Wh/kg and it is reasonable to assume, that they will hit desired 400Wh/kg in the coming decade.
Another aspect, that has to be taken into consideration is the cost of solar panels. It is expected, that there will be a 70 percent reduction in cost of lithium-ion batteries by 2025 and a rapid rise in the cost of kerosene-based jet fuel. This means, that there will be quickly growing difference in the costs of running aircraft. This is exactly the time, that will favor electrification.
To establish electric aircraft we will need another couple of decades. Once they are established, the next step will be to integrate aircraft with gimballed propulsion system, one that can provide thrust in any direction, meaning that there won’t be a need for the elevators, rudders and tailplane controls, such as control surface that current designs require. Wings are already in design and are near their peak in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. It is believed, that there is no longer need to build wings as stiff structures with detached control surfaces, but in the construction of the wings, we can turn to the natural world for inspiration.
See for yourself in thus pictures below. Which one do you think that has got the potential to be the most successful?
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