The aviation industry is not very sustainable. In the transportation industry as a whole, flying is the most damaging to the environment. “Aviation represents the world’s fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions,” according to environment writer and Guardian journalist George Monbiot. Indeed, the number of air passengers is set to double by 2035.
We all love to travel. So rather than sacrifice our passion for trips to far-flung destinations, an alternative is to make flying more environmentally friendly. And this is where electric planes come in.
The environmental benefits of electric planes
An electric plane is powered by an electric motor, although the electricity can be supplied by a variety of methods, including batteries, ground power cables, solar cells, ultracapacitors, fuel cells, and power beaming. Many different types of electric planes have been developed. But the first one to make a complete circumnavigation of the world was Solar Impulse 2, which achieved the impressive feat between 2015 and 2016.
Other planes have made this journey before. However, the difference with Solar Impulse 2 is that it emitted no emissions and burned no fuel. The plane generated electricity from solar panels, an electric motor, and four 41 kWh lithium-ion batteries.
The European Commission states that emissions from flying contribute to 3% of EU total greenhouse gas emissions and 4% of global emissions. So if electric planes become the norm in the aviation industry, accounting for our commercial flights, then we could travel in a sustainable way, and remove one contributing cause of climate change. Norway and the UK are two countries which are making headway in making this proposal a reality.
Norway’s plans for the future
Norway wants all short-haul flights to be powered by electricity by 2040. This comprises one of the country’s methods for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. As early as 2025, Norway wants aircraft makers to introduce a 25-to-30-seat airliner powered by electric motors.
Zunum Aero, a company based in Seattle, has been working on the kind of aircraft that Norway wants to see flying short-haul routes. The company plans to have a 12-seat airliner flying by 2022 and a 50-seater plane that can fly 1,000 miles by 2027. Zunum Aero’s CEO Ashish Kumar also says that “a 100-seat, 1500-mile aircraft we think will be viable by the late 2020s.” Meanwhile, Airbus is looking to unveil an electric plane that can carry 100 passengers 1,000km by 2020.
UK government invests in electric planes
In July, the UK government invested £343m in electric and hybrid aerospace research. This injection of funds will go towards E-Fan X, an experimental version of the BAe146 aircraft that has been developed by Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and Siemens. Instead of having four jet engines, the aircraft will have two jets and two electric motors. This aircraft will have space for 100 people and we could see the prototype in the air as soon as 2020.
EasyJet has already expressed interest and wants the electric plane to fly passengers on short-haul flights in the next 10-20 years. With big names in the aviation industry already jumping on the opportunity to switch over to electric planes, we could very well see a revolution in the industry. This seems to be a necessary step in moving towards a cleaner and greener environment.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a freelance writer who is particularly interested in space exploration, sustainability, tech, and agriculture.