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Electric planes may be closer to reality than we thought

Determined to ensure that the world’s emission-free future can take flight, a Swedish start-up is in the midst of putting a battery-powered 30-seat passenger aircraft into service by 2028.

Unless you’re a member of the Kardashian family, you’ll be well aware that flying is terrible for the environment.

In fact, although it would be unrealistic to assume we may eventually give it up altogether, foregoing this mode of transport – which accounts for 2.5 per cent of global atmospheric pollution – is one of the most impactful things we, as individuals, can do to reduce our carbon footprints.

Air travel, however, is convenient, fast, and (most often) cost-effective.

For this reason, our ability to span long distances at high speeds so we can easily explore, visit those we love, and attend international business meetings will likely never go out of fashion.

Regardless, something’s got to give if we’re to prevent the Earth from heating any further.

Especially when you take into account the quantity of fossil fuels being burned to power the 9,700 plus planes that are in the sky at any given time.

So far, solutions have been far and few between, which may come as a surprise considering the increasingly rapid advancement of sustainable technologies in the field of electric vehicles including cars, trains, and even boats.

This is because aviation is extremely difficult to electrify, with battery weight being the biggest problem.

Trying to fully electrify an aircraft with today’s batteries would mean eliminating any space for passengers and cargo. Even then, you would only be able to fly for under an hour.

Plus, jet fuel can hold about 50 times more energy compared to batteries per unit mass – making it the economically appealing option.

To solve this dilemma, new batteries capable of storing more energy need to be developed, but we aren’t quite there yet.

For now, our best attempt is a model that uses a combination of batteries and fuel, also known as a hybrid.

This hybridisation extends to the propulsion system too, the power assistance area of the plane that manages take-offs and climb. When taxiing to the runway, a hybrid plane would only use electricity, saving a lot of fuel and minimising net emissions for the overall flight.

Steering the effort to get this innovation off the ground is a start-up known as Heart Aerospace.

Rather fittingly, it’s Swedish, from the nation responsible for establishing the flygskam movement which seeks to discourage people from flying to thwart climate change.

Its current project is ES-30, a 30-seat passenger plane with four electrically-driven propellers that’s designed to serve destinations 200 kilometres away on electricity alone.

A planned backup hybrid turbo generator, powered by sustainable aviation fuel, could double that range to 400km. Oh, and it takes no more than thirty minutes to recharge.

If all goes well – the assumption is that it will given Air Canada has already showed faith in ES-30 by snapping up 30 of them – the aircrafts will be put into service by as early as 2028.

‘If you want to compare electric aircraft to conventional aircraft on range, well, we’re not there yet,’ says chief executive and founder Anders Forslund.

‘But what we can offer is low noise, zero emissions, which means that not only is it good for climate, but also for your local environment, for the pollution near airports. This is a leap forward in the otherwise slow progress in the race for green commercial flight’

 

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