A new battery technology might discharge fast enough to get an aircraft off the ground. By applying magnetic forces to straighten the path lithium ions navigate through electrodes in the battery, scientists believe they could significantly boost the rate at which batteries discharges electricity. This boost of power output could open up uses that have long eluded batteries. One being the huge power demand of an aircraft at takeoff, if it works it could power regional commuter flights.
Environmental impact might be big benefits from electric planes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes is one of the hardest challenges. Air travel accounts for around 2% of carbon dioxide emissions and is one of the fastest-growing sources of gas emissions. But these would replace car rides for the rich, not displace air travel.
Companies are already testing the potential of a small electric aircraft, building the equivalent of a network of flying taxis that can cover around 100 miles on a single charge. In most cases, non-gas planes have been imagined as autonomous vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts.
These researchers are aiming for something higher. The first phase of the plan is to develop a battery for a 12 person plane with 400 miles of range. In a second phase, they hope to power a 50 person plane.
The planes would be equipped with a combustion engine and necessary fuel to achieve the FAAs reserve fuel requirement. In a normal flight planes wouldn’t have to tap into it.
Until these batteries are tested it remains to be seen how well this technology will work. In the best-case scenario the field is still probably decades away from turning more than a fraction of total air miles electric.