Electric Airplanes by Nikhil Siddam, WA

Electric. The word of the 21st Century, at least when it comes to vehicles. From skateboards to bikes to cars to even buses, It is impossible to miss the trend of vehicles going electric. With a culture growing more fearful of climate change, it only makes sense why there is demand for electric vehicles. Yet one massive hole in the electric vehicle market seems to be untapped until now. Electric Planes are slowly being pushed closer to commercially viable as they are further into development.

The first battery powered plane was the Militky MB-E1 which was flown in 1973 for 12 minutes, so why don't we have electric airliners yet?

Airlines did not need an alternative until now, as there are incoming regulations. It is the government basically forcing the hands of airlines to make sure they end up reducing emissions. Because airplanes are expensive, it is up to the Airline Companies to take this expensive endeavor to make planes electric. If regulations are passed, airlines have no other alternative than to switch. This is taking place right now, as a bill in France is already sending shockwaves to the industry. The bill banned domestic flights that were 2 and half hours or shorter as the government suggests the public use emission free transport (train) instead. This bill could cause a ripple effect as some members of the European Union suggest that it should be the norm (airport technology). Although aircraft emissions in the US are currently unregulated, the Environmental Protection Agency has now started to track the emissions to maybe regulate it in the future.

Another aspect is that current technology in lithium-ion batteries has limited full-blown electric airliners to take to the sky. The energy density (the energy stored per kilogram) of the lithium-ion batteries prevents this from being the case. This means that in order to take off you need to add a battery which means you are adding more weight which means you need more batteries to carry more weight in the air causing an inefficient cycle. The current best battery technology we have is 250 watt-hour/kg which is good for cars but the batteries for airplanes need an energy density of 800 watt-hour/kg (Jet Fuel has an energy density of 11,890 watt-hour/kg). The ongoing trend shows we are improving efficiency slowly and will make it to the needed watt-hour/kg by 2050.

What now though ? These technologies still seem far away.

Right now we have efficient electric planes for short flights upto 100 miles, like the Magnix Cessna eCaravan that can fit 9 or so passengers that are soon to get commercial certification. There are also plans on switching lithium-ion batteries with more efficient lithium-sulphur or hydrogen fuel cells. Electric Aircrafts are estimated to turn a larger profit without fuel costs and less maintenance, without any emissions.

It will be really interesting to see how electric aviation evolves over the next decades. Pictures of cool designs from NASA and Boeing engineers are circulating within group chats as I hope our generation actually gets to develop and introduce clean, electric and energy efficient aircrafts to the world.