Electric airplane engines (propulsion) for air travel and space travel could be a game changer in both the aviation and aerospace industries alike in the near future.
Electric propulsion is the technology that uses electrical energy to push an airplane or a spacecraft forward to provide the required thrust. The use of electric propulsion will enhance the performance of thrusters (engines) compared to chemical thrusters.
In airplanes, electric propulsion is used to run the propellers or fans through electric motors.
Electric propulsion is currently under the development stage and about 100 electrically propelled aircraft are currently being developed.
Editor’s note: A “propelled aircraft” refers to an airplane that is being driven forward with the help of an engine, whether that means a jet engine or a propeller airplane.
Benefits to air travelers and airlines
Electric propulsion has the potential to reduce air and noise pollution caused by the aviation industry, which will also enable low-cost air travel globally.
What is driving the electric propulsion technology?
- Despite the improvements in fuel consumption in the past 5 decades, the aviation industry is accounting for about 3% of the CO2 emissions.
- It is estimated that the aviation industry will account for about 10 to 25% of the CO2 emissions during the next 5 decades.
- Rising concerns on CO2 emissions globally and increasing stringent regulations will drive the growth of electric propulsion technology in the coming years.
- Increasing governments are targeting electrified airplane travel in the next 2 decades.
What affects the growth of electric propulsion technology?
- High capital cost for the development of technology is the key barrier for the growth of electric propulsion systems.
- The high cost of the battery component is another major factor that affects the growth of the electric propulsion system.
- The current heavyweight of batteries is a major drawback for the aviation industry today. Heavyweights on an airplane hamper air travel performance and efficiency.
Industry prospects for the electric propulsion technology
Various industry leaders are working and developing electric propulsion technologies to realize the idea into reality.
NASA is developing various technologies such as aircraft concepts and ground test facilities. This will enhance the development of electric propulsion systems.
Industry leaders are developing hybrid electric propulsion technologies. Here they can incorporate both conventional fossil fuel propulsion and electric propulsion. This would increase the performance and efficiency of the systems.
Companies are investing in all-electric aircraft including battery and solar-powered aircraft. This is designed to meet various requirements in the electric air travel industry.
New entrants are investing in the aerospace incumbents and developing various technologies. Companies are aiming to develop business models to keep emission levels at a low from the aviation industry.
Technological developments in battery technology will further offer greater growth opportunities for the electric propulsion systems in the coming years.
A decline in the cost of battery technology by 60% is anticipated in the next decade. By 2030 this will further support the growth of electric propulsion systems.
Chemical industries are developing new technologies such as increasing power density, enhanced power dissipation, and storage capabilities.
New manufacturing technologies and chemical materials such as solid batteries that could reduce the use of space. The increased performance will further enable the rapid transformation of electric propulsion technology in the aviation industry.
Who is developing the electric aircraft technology?
Currently, Europe and the US are actively involved in the development of electric propulsion technologies.
It is expected that China would play a leading role in electrically propelled technology in the future. China hosts only one development, however, the EHANG 184/216. That’s an all-electric plane that carries passengers without pilots.
However, lack of investments and aerospace incumbency might hamper the development plans. Planned development of new electric air transportation business models by companies is seen in recent years.
For instance, the UK is aiming to launch electric air transport by 2020s. EasyJet airlines are planning to have electric planes within the next 10 years.
Another airline, Zunum Aero is aiming to have zero emissions for all its short-haul flights by 2040.
It is expected that electric propulsion systems might lead to a drastic improvement in the aviation industry.
This can happen by decreasing pollution of air and noise. Increasing the efficiency and performance of air travel at low cost would be a great benefit.
Improving battery technologies for lightweight, high energy density and compact size might create remarkable outcomes in the electric propulsion technologies.
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