Electric Planes Becoming a Possibility

We all know that flying is terrible for the environment. Per passenger kilometer, flying emits more carbon dioxide than any other mode of transport and is three times more carbon-costly than driving. Planes are slowly getting more efficient, with air traffic expected to triple by 2020 (according to predictions by Boeing), we can’t wait around for aviation to continue ruining the planet. So how about going electric?

Avinor, Norway’s primary airport infrastructure operator, announced recently that it plans to make all of its short-haul flights electric-powered by 2040. Short-haul flights mean flights of 1.5 hours or less (distance-wise that’s 800-900 miles), but that would still encompass almost all domestic flights and flights to other major capitals like Stockholm, Sweden, or Copenhagen, Denmark. You may be wondering about long-haul flights but it turns out that the shorter the flight, the more polluting it will be per passenger kilometer, as just getting the plane off the ground is incredibly energy-intensive. But hey, considering the external costs that come with aviation, a ticket is cheap.

And that’s exactly what Washington state-based company Zunum Aero wants to maintain — cheap flights, but on greener planes. Earlier last year they announced their goal to fly routes of up to 700 miles by the mid-2020s. Backed by airlines and airplane manufacturers like Boeing and JetBlue, they hope that the operating costs of their hybrid-electric planes will be 40-80% cheaper than conventional aircraft, making it more convenient for people to fly than to drive. 

Airline EasyJet also announced last September that it is teaming up with U.S. start-up Wright Electric to make commercial electric flying a possibility.  Wright Electric’s pilot test, a 2-seater airplane, has already had remarkable results, and both companies hope to have electric aircraft flying within the next decade. The flights, however, would have to be short-haul —335 miles or less — as most batteries can’t handle longer distances. 

However, there are people already working to create longer-lived batteries. For example, scientist Dr. Qichao Hu has invented a polymer ionic liquid that can hold twice the amount of energy in a typical lithium-ion battery in your cellphone. If they can make the batteries light enough, a plane would be able to increase its range and energy savings.  

So the next time you board a flight, just think about how, in a few decades or less, you could be boarding a sustainable, electricity-powered plane (and for a cheaper price too).

Sources: Smithsonian, Treehugger, CNN, Washington Post, Atlantic

Image Credit: LA Times, CNN