The Electric Hold
The interest society has in electric vehicles is at an all-time high, with our technological advancements in the past few decades it has become possible to achieve truly amazing results. In past attempts, our accomplishments toward creating electric vehicles with significant capabilities were slow-going with the technological barrier in place.
According to an article posted by Energy.gov, “The History of the Electric Car“, we humans have been working on this project for well over a century now. The article goes on to depict the history of electric cars beginning near the early 1830s when the first crude electric vehicle was developed, though it would not be deemed practical until after the 1870s.
Around 1889 – 1891 the first electric vehicle debuts in the U.S., and after this, the interest in electric vehicles would dwindle and rise until its latest skyrocket. The Energy.gov article describes a progression in the past three decades from electric cars with cult-like followings to popular hybrids, and lastly to plug-in stations where commercially sold electric cars, with reduced costs, can recharge across many locations. This recent progression took place because of regulation change at the beginning of the 90s.
With interest getting ramped up in electric vehicles, the focus would turn towards the battery. Though it was a great sentiment of using electric vehicles in order to conserve harmful emissions, the performance was very underwhelming in the beginning. Hence, the bridge of hybrid vehicles before recent innovations. Those innovations originated from the battery.
Without crucial work being done on the capacity of batteries, these vehicles would not be able to make it far enough for everyday commuters to make the switch from gasoline. Though great minds were able to expand this capacity and push cars to greater lengths, can the same be done for airplanes?
Will Electric Propulsion Technology for Airplanes be Possible?
Understanding the importance of research is the reason why NASA has been able to provide us with so many innovations that have changed the course of our lives. According to Insider Voice, NASA awarded two U.S. companies $250 million in order for them to further pursue the development of electric propulsion technology.
According to the article, the funds were divided between the two companies GE Aviation and MagniX, at $179 million and $74 million respectfully under the agency’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) program. Both companies will continue this work over the next five years with provisions of ground and flight test demonstrations, and collaboration with NASA projects focused on electric propulsion, data analysis, and flight test instrumentation.
The program that funds this project is interested in turning research and development into real-world operational flight systems. According to Insider Voice, the integration of this public-private partnership might finally solve the problem preventing electric propulsion technology from changing airplane travel forever.
The article makes this claim because as of today there are many companies working on electric flight propulsion systems, simply on a smaller scale with emerging air taxi markets. These are vehicles that need a battery that does not hold back the aircraft from takeoff. Which, seems to be the largest obstacle in generating lift, while holding a battery with capacity enough to make long-distance flights.
Gasoline Vs Electric Airplane Engines?
After working with gasoline for so long we now better understand the many drawbacks that come with its use, from harmful emissions to flawed capabilities. From this understanding began the race to perfect the battery until we could replace gasoline altogether, which you can now see the results from at car charging stations and the many drones exploring the sky.
Based on an article posted by Airbus, the use of fossil fuels is optimal for long-range missions because of its ability to produce high levels of power and energy at a low mass. The drawbacks however are the harmful emissions and fuel waste that take place during use.
During thermal propulsion, the use of fossil fuels emits NOx, CO2, and other particulates that cause damage to our environment. Not only does this emission occur during use, but the heat actually burns two-thirds of fuel energy into wasteful heat that is lost out of the exhaust. The article states that advances are being made into curbing this loss of energy, but until then it does not seem like the most efficient method compared to our theoretical alternative.
Electric propulsion is a field that could change the trajectory of the world itself, with less harmful emissions taking place the Earth can hopefully take the time to do some correcting. As with the majority of impactful innovations, there will be hurdles and a need for patience as evidenced in the article as they explain the challenges presented by electric energy.
The efficiency of storage is a huge drawback, today’s technology does not allow us to store enough energy that will exceed the output of fossil fuel per kilogram. The example given is that 1 kg of fuel is equivalent to 25 kg of batteries. This further supports that currently, the largest issue faced in electric propulsion is generating lift with a large mass of batteries holding the aircraft down.
Will We See SpaceX and Tesla Enter the Race?
According to a blog post on Electrek, Elon Musk has made mention of electric propulsion designs and predictions for the technology, though no plan was set for production. His views aligned with the research done here, that the energy density of batteries needs to improve before we can enable the electric aircraft market. The CEO believes in 3-4 years, our capabilities will make great progress and technology could be on its way to making that a very real possibility.