Today’s Entry comes from Great Britain, courtesy of Jenna Bose, a young writer eager to explore the burgeoning world of electric aviation. Your editor thinks you will find her outlook refreshing, open-minded and mind-opening. We look forward to more of her contributions.
Sustainability has been the driving factor behind most technological innovations, and aviation is no exception. A new report by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) states that aircraft alone contribute at least 12 percent of the U. S. transportation emissions, which is currently at 1,091 million metric tons. Globally, the numbers aren’t too inspiring, either. After all, the same EESI report informs that aviation was responsible for 2.4 percent of total carbon dioxide on the planet two years ago. Numbers are still being computed for 2019, but they don’t look promising.
The Solution? Electric Aircraft
Fortunately, manufacturers around the world have made great strides to make aviation greener with reverberating success. Just this July, an electric aviation group in the UK went big by topping last year’s design with an even better machine: the Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft (HERA). Other countries like France and Slovenia are also making huge strides in electric aviation.
As one of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the world, the US has produced promising machines, too. The Zunum Aero from 2017, the Bye Aerospace eFlyers from 2018, and last year’s Ampaire are some of the country’s top designs. But they were all funded by private companies and donors.
However, local efforts for electric aviation could speed up as the federal government has expressed interest in pushing this innovation through. Last month, the Department of Energy announced that it would be releasing $33 million to fund 17 different electric aviation projects. This move was made as part of their Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives (ASCEND) and Range Extenders for Electric Aviation with Low Carbon and High Efficiency (REEACH) programs.
ASCEND and REEACH
ASCEND’s goal is to create lightweight all-electric powertrains with advanced thermal management systems to
enable net-zero carbon emissions for single-aisle passenger commercial aircraft. Meanwhile, REEACH’s aim is to come up with cost-effective ways to power sub-systems for electric aircraft, without losing anything on the performance aspect. The $33 million will be split into $14.5 million for ASCEND (nine projects) and $18.5 million for REEACH (eight projects), respectively.
Some of the projects associated with both include Texas A&M’s Multi-Physical Co-Design of Next Generation Axial Motors for Aerospace Applications and Hyper Tech’s Cryo Thermal Management of High-Power Density Motors and Drives. Electric aviation leaders like General Electric and Wright Electric are also receiving funds.
The Future of Electric Aviation
But it’s not just projects involved with ASCEND and REEACH that are seeing advancements this year. In 2018, Tesla and SpaceX announced that they were planning to develop an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, but never followed through on the announcement. The design for the aircraft involved a sophisticated power delivery system design, with billions of transistors demanding an incredible power supply that Tesla was not equipped to develop.
However, a few days ago, Elon Musk announced that he saw that batteries enabling his design could come to market within “three to four years” and that he was putting the project back in action.
Air taxis may also become commonplace, as research is abundantly being pooled into this field as well. During last January’s Consumer Electronics Show, Uber and Hyundai Motor revealed a concept electric aircraft that’s able to fly on trips of up to 60 miles, with speeds at 180 miles/hour. Boeing proclaimed last year that they were working with Porsche to create an urban electric flying vehicle as well.
Overall, electric aviation is seeing more activity now than ever. Indeed, between national interest and advancements in technology, the future could be arriving no less than a decade later.