Electric Planes – a thing of the future?
Over the last few years, many industries have started to make changes in the way they use fossil fuels. From the car industry to the plastics industry and even the road network industry. These industries have started to carry out research and development into the use of more sustainable energy sources that are less earth damaging.
Of these industries, the aviation industry accounts for a substantial amount of pollution. On average, according to the blue sky model, a plane can generate around 53 pounds of carbon dioxide in each mile. Considering that there are well over 100,000 flights per day, that’s a lot of carbon dioxide pumping into the air. Additionally, the European commission suggests that the emissions from airplanes are responsible for about 4% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions. Considering the continuous rises in oil prices, and the significant effect on the air, it seems only logical that electric planes would soon become a reality.
Well yes and no, back in 2016 Solar Impulse 2 became the first electric aeroplane to fly around the world. It used solar energy with an electric motor and four lithium-ion batteries that allowed it to fly continuously during the day, and at night. The entire journey from Abu Dhabi, through countries like Japan, Hawaii, the US and Egypt took around 16 months to complete. The plane could only carry one passenger though. This kind of feat is certainly giving evidence to the possibilities of electric planes in the future.
However it’s not as easy as that. Regardless of the many examples of small aircrafts that can run on electric motors and batteries, the science behind it, isn’t fully developed for use in larger aircrafts. At the moment, the fastest electric flight recorded was 337.5km/h, set by the Extra 330LE plane. The engine on this plane also held a world record for its power to weight ratio, but it only carries two passengers. For comparison, a Boeing 787 can travel at 941km/h and carry more than 200 passengers. Simply put, the technology growth of present times, makes the likelihood of electric aeroplanes hitting the mainstream unlikely any time soon. That’s not from lack of want or trying. Rather from a lack of timely innovation.
One major hinderance to the development of electric powered aeroplanes is the weight of the batteries. This is a significant drawback as the heavier an aircraft is, the more energy it uses to maintain altitude and reach the desired speeds. In a way, with current battery weights, it becomes an equation with no answer. At the moment, fuel in aircrafts takes up around 20% of its weight. But batteries weigh more. They also are not as good at providing fuel as kerosene. Here’s the conundrum, as more batteries are needed for the same amount of power, the weight of the plane will increase. As the weight of the plane increases, more batteries will be needed to fly the plane…
The takeaway though, is that electric planes are certainly something big airline players are thinking about. Although it may not happen in the next few years, I’m sure it will happen in less years than we predict.