Excerpt from The Guardian
Battery-powered air taxis and bigger hybrid planes poised to change aviation
Trains, ships and automobiles have all been swept along in recent years by the electric power revolution – and planes are next.
Passenger jets are poised for an electric makeover that could fundamentally change the economics and environmental outlook of the aviation industry. Up until now the fact that the necessary batteries weigh two tonnes each has limited the switch from fossil fuels to a totally electric-powered future.
However, last month a consortium comprising Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens said they had found a way to use hybrid electric jet engines to conquer gravity. They are converting a regional jet into a demonstration plane, called the E-Fan X, which will be ready by 2020.
Paul Stein, chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce, said: “It is a two-tonne battery pack – the batteries are still fairly heavy. Beating gravity into submission is a huge challenge, so weight is a big issue.”
The BAE 146 demo aircraft, a jet that seats up to 100 people, will at first have one of its four gas turbine engines replaced with the hybrid engine. This engine will be powered by batteries and an onboard generator using jet fuel. If successful, the team will then move to two electric engines. Siemens is designing the 2MW electric motor, Rolls is building the generator that powers the engine and Airbus will integrate the system into the plane and link it to flight controls. They are developing the hybrid motor because fully electric commercial flights are currently out of reach.
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