Airbus has taken an important step forward in the field of green aviation. Last week, it successfully launched a test flight of its carbon-fiber electric-powered plane called E-Fan. The plane flew over the vineyards of Bordeaux, France, cruising at 185 kilometers per hour. It was powered by two 65-kg lithium battery packs hidden in its wings, each driving a 30 KW electric motor. The flight has heralded the future possibilities of a new class of cleaner, greener hybrid airliners.
According to Airbus, E-Fan is more than just a research project. It is the first step in a development program that could lead to much bigger electric planes – with next generation, high-power lithium-air batteries and superconducting motors. From 2017, VoltAir, a new division of Airbus, will produce and market the E-Fan. It will be sold as a training plane for pilots and tow planes for gliders. Later hybrid versions of the E-Fan – in two and four-seat versions – will use a small engine to charge the batteries in flight to achieve a longer flying time.
Airbus says that the E-Fan is just a precursor to a bigger hybrid passenger jet. In a research project called E-Thrust, the company is aiming to build a hybrid aircraft with 80 seats that can handle regional city hops – a “Toyota Prius” of the skies. The E-Thrust will use a Rolls-Royce jet engine – not to generate thrust but electricity. However, the challenges of switching over to an 80-seater aircraft are profound. The E-Thrust would need 4 megawatts of power compared to the two motors of E-Fan that provide 60 kilowatts.
Boeing is also pursuing research in hybrid electric aircraft designs alongside NASA. It is looking at the possibility of building planes that could seat as many as 150 people. However, the plans are still further away. The results of the experimental program are being held for more analysis. Boeing is currently focused on testing other ideas to reduce emissions on its 787 jet.
According to environmental experts, as long as Airbus uses renewable sources to charge batteries when the planes are on the ground, the technology is a positive step forward to preventing aviation’s emissions doubling against 2000 levels by 2050.
Source: New Scientist
Image Credit: Flickr via Vijay Sonar
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