Electric planes might seem futuristic, but they aren’t that far off, at least for short hops.

Two-seater Velis Electros are already quietly buzzing around Europe, electric sea planes are being tested in British Columbia, and larger planes are coming. Air Canada announced on Sept. 15, 2022, that it would buy 30 electric-hybrid regional aircraft from Sweden’s Heart Aerospace, which expects to have its 30-seat plane in service by 2028. Analysts at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab note that the first hybrid electric 50- to 70-seat commuter plane could be ready not long after that. In the 2030s, they say, electric aviation could really take off.

That matters for managing climate change. About 3% of global emissions come from aviation today, and with more passengers and flights expected as the population expands, aviation could be producing three to five times more carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aerospace engineer and assistant professor Gökçin Çınar develops sustainable aviation concepts, including hybrid-electric planes and hydrogen fuel alternatives, at the University of Michigan. We asked her about the key ways to cut aviation emissions today and where technologies like electrification and hydrogen are headed.

Why is aviation so difficult to electrify?

Aircraft are some of the most complex vehicles out there, but the biggest problem for electrifying them is the battery weight.

If you tried to fully electrify a 737 with today’s batteries, you would have to take out all the passengers and cargo and fill that space with batteries just to fly for under an hour.

Jet fuel can hold about 50 times more energy compared to batteries per unit mass. So, you can have 1 pound of jet fuel or 50 pounds of batteries. To close that gap, we need to either make lithium-ion batteries lighter or develop new batteries that hold more energy. New batteries are being developed, but they aren’t yet ready for aircraft.

electric planes are coming: short-hop  regional flights could be running on batteries in a few years

Air Canada and United Airlines have ordered 30-seat regional hybrid-electric planes from Heart Aerospace that can go about 125 miles (200 km) fully electric and 250 miles (400 km) as hybrids. With a 25-passenger configuration, the company says the hybrid distance doubles. Heart Aerospace

An electric alternative is hybrids.

Even though we might not be able to fully electrify a 737, we can get some fuel burn benefits from batteries in the larger jets by using hybrid propulsion systems. We are trying to make that happen in the short term, with a 2030-2035 target for smaller regional planes. The less fuel burned during flight, the fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

How does hybrid aviation work to cut emissions?

Hybrid electric aircraft are similar to hybrid electric cars in that they use a combination of batteries and aviation fuels. The problem is that no other industry has the weight limitations that we do in the aerospace industry.

That’s why we have to be very smart about how and how much we are hybridizing the propulsion system.

Using batteries as a power assist during takeoff and climb are very promising options. Taxiing to the runway using just electric power could also save a significant amount of fuel and reduce the local emissions at airports. There is a sweet spot between the added weight of the battery and how much electricity you can use to get net fuel benefits. This optimization problem is at the center of my research.

Hybrids would still burn fuel during flight, but it could be considerably less than just relying entirely on jet fuel.

How hybrid electric aviation could work on large aircraft.

I see hybridization as a mid-term option for larger jets, but a near-term solution for regional aircraft.

For 2030 to 2035, we’re focused on hybrid turboprops, typically regional aircraft with 50-80 passengers or used for freight. These hybrids could cut fuel use by about 10%.

With electric hybrids, airlines could also make more use of regional airports, reducing congestion and time larger planes spend idling on the runway.

What do you expect to see in the near term from sustainable aviation?

Shorter term we’ll see more use of sustainable aviation fuels, or SAF. With today’s engines, you can dump sustainable aviation fuel into the same fuel tank and burn it. Fuels made from corn, oilseeds, algae and other fats are already being used.

Sustainable aviation fuels can reduce an aircraft’s net carbon dioxide emissions by around 80%, but supply is limited, and using more biomass for fuel could compete with food production and lead to deforestation.

A second option is using synthetic sustainable aviation fuels, which involves capturing carbon from the air or other industrial processes and synthesizing it with hydrogen. But that’s a complex and costly process and does not have a high production scale yet.

electric planes are coming: short-hop  regional flights could be running on batteries in a few years

Ampaire reported that its hybrid electric EEL had fuel savings up to 40% compared with a standard version of the similar Cessna Skymaster. Ampaire

Airlines can also optimize their operations in the short term, such as route planning to avoid flying nearly empty planes. That can also reduce emissions.

Is hydrogen an option for aviation?

Hydrogen fuel has been around a very long time, and when it’s green hydrogen – produced with water and electrolysis powered by renewable energy – it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide. It can also hold more energy per unit of mass than batteries.

There are two ways to use hydrogen in an airplane: either in place of regular jet fuel in an engine, or combined with oxygen to power hydrogen fuel cells, which then generate electricity to power the aircraft.

The problem is volume – hydrogen gas takes up a lot of space. That’s why engineers are looking at methods like keeping it very cool so it can be stored as liquid until it’s burned as a gas. It still takes up more space than jet fuel, and the storage tanks are heavy, so how to store, handle or distribute it on aircraft is still being worked out.

Airbus is doing a lot of research on hydrogen combustion using modified gas turbine engines with an A380 platform, and aiming to have mature technology by 2025. Australia’s Rex airline expects to start testing a 34-seat, hydrogen-electric airplane for short hops in the next few years.

Due to the variety of options, I see hydrogen as one of the key technologies for sustainable aviation.

Will these technologies be able to meet the aviation industry’s goals for reducing emissions?

The problem with aviation emissions isn’t their current levels – it’s the fear that their emissions will increase rapidly as demand increases. By 2050, we could see three to five times more carbon dioxide emissions from aviation than before the pandemic.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, generally defines the industry’s goals, looking at what’s feasible and how aviation can push the boundaries.

Its long-term goal is to cut net carbon dioxide emissions 50% by 2050 compared with 2005 levels. Getting there will require a mix of different technologies and optimization. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to reach it by 2050, but I believe we must do everything we can to make future aviation environmentally sustainable.

COP27 was disappointing, but 2022 remains an historic year for international climate policy

UK start-up behind algae-based packaging bids for Earthshot glory

Victoria faces a grave climate and energy crisis. The new government’s policies must be far bolder

Get True Power Independence With Zendure Portable Power Station SuperBase Pro 2000

‘This case has made legal history’: young Australians just won a human rights case against an enormous coal mine

Profound grief for a pet is normal – how to help yourself or a friend weather the loss of a beloved family member

Giant Floating Wind Turbine Research to Begin in Japan; New Models 3x Larger Than Existing Ones

It’s natural to want to feed wildlife after disasters. But it may not help

Stripping carbon from the atmosphere might be needed to avoid dangerous warming – but it remains a deeply uncertain prospect

Climate-fuelled disasters: warning people is good, but stopping the disaster is best. Here are 4 possible ways to do it

Hurricanes knock out traffic lights. Could a Tampa solar sidewalk change that?

Adapting to a hotter planet has never been more important, and progress edged forward at COP27

State of the climate: what Australians need to know about major new report

They might not have a spine, but invertebrates are the backbone of our ecosystems. Let’s help them out

That siren-imitating lyrebird at Taronga Zoo? He lost his song culture – and absorbed some of ours

US Watchdog Claims Offshore Oil, Gas Facilities Targeted by Cyberattackers; OTs Have Security Flaws

TECH NEWS RELATED

COP15: three visions for protecting nature on the table at the UN biodiversity conference

With the dust still settling on the UN climate change summit in Egypt, another round of international talks is beginning in Montreal, Canada. The UN biodiversity conference, otherwise known as COP15, will assemble world leaders to agree on new targets for protecting nature. The loss of biodiversity – the dizzying ...

View more: COP15: three visions for protecting nature on the table at the UN biodiversity conference

Australia and the US are firm friends on defence – now let’s turn that into world-beating climate action

Climate action is firmly on the political agenda in both Australia and the United States, following a recent change in government in both nations. As this year’s Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) get underway in Washington, the Albanese and Biden administrations appear keen for deeper bilateral cooperation on tackling climate change. ...

View more: Australia and the US are firm friends on defence – now let’s turn that into world-beating climate action

Sea urchins have invaded Tasmania and Victoria, but we can’t work out what to do with them

While crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef have long been ecological villains in the popular imagination, sea urchins have mostly crawled under the national radar – until now. Long-spined sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) have invaded Tasmania and Victoria from their historical range in New South Wales. Where it occurs, ...

View more: Sea urchins have invaded Tasmania and Victoria, but we can’t work out what to do with them

China: Artificially-Made 'Nuclear Island' Brings New Reactor, Construction Starts

There is a new Chinese island that will appear on the map and bring the Hainan province power for its entire region, and it is with the artificially-made “Nuclear Island” created by its scientists. The area would receive nuclear power that centers on rapid construction that opens more opportunities for ...

View more: China: Artificially-Made 'Nuclear Island' Brings New Reactor, Construction Starts

Loss, decay and bleaching: why sponges may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for impacts of marine heatwaves

Marine sponges were thought to be more resilient to ocean warming than other organisms. But earlier this year, New Zealand recorded the largest-ever sponge bleaching event off its southern coastline. While only one species, the cup sponge Cymbastella lamellata, was affected, a prolonged marine heatwave turned millions of the normally ...

View more: Loss, decay and bleaching: why sponges may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for impacts of marine heatwaves

Clashing laws need to be fixed if we want to live in bushfire-prone areas

It’s almost bushfire season. Yes, even though floods are still racing through parts of eastern Australia. Fire conditions are above average including in inland New South Wales and Queensland. When we switch back to a neutral or El Niño climate cycle, our fire risk will likely intensify, given the huge ...

View more: Clashing laws need to be fixed if we want to live in bushfire-prone areas

Half of Australia’s biggest companies have net-zero emissions plans, but climate action may come too late

About half of Australia’s biggest listed companies have plans to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, our new analysis has found. We assessed the climate change commitments of 187 companies out of 200 listed on the Australian Stock Exchange – the ASX200. Together, these 187 companies produce 32% of Australia’s operational ...

View more: Half of Australia’s biggest companies have net-zero emissions plans, but climate action may come too late

Solar Panel Options in Florida To Help Save Energy Bills: Costs, Incentives, More

Solar energy is a renewable resource readily available to the sunshine state’s citizens, and here’s how you can tap its potential. In the previous two decades, the price of solar panels has decreased dramatically, making the conversion to solar more accessible. Solar system costs have been reduced by 69% since ...

View more: Solar Panel Options in Florida To Help Save Energy Bills: Costs, Incentives, More

Green factories are changing minds in more conservative US states

Energy crisis driving climate-friendly power savings: IEA

54% of projects extracting clean energy minerals overlap with Indigenous lands, research reveals

Why does lightning zigzag? At last, we have an answer to the mystery

A China-backed dam in Indonesia threatens a rare great ape – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg

‘Earth’s empty quarter’: many Pacific nations now have falling populations

Curious Kids: What would happen if all animals on Earth were herbivores?

Coastal property prices and climate risks are both soaring. We must pull our heads out of the sand

Many forests will become highly flammable for at least 30 extra days per year unless we cut emissions, research finds

Five UK energy storage projects share £32m funding

We all know the Great Barrier Reef is in danger – the UN has just confirmed it. Again

Rolls-Royce, easyJet Successful Test Run for its Hydrogen-Powered Jet Engine—Towards Carbon Neutrality

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News