As the world continues to become aware of the concerns surrounding climate change, the pursuit of sustainable solutions has become a goal. From electric cars to now the aerospace industry. This article explores the advancements and challenges of electric propulsion in aviation, shedding light on the potential it holds for the future of aviation.
To begin with- What is electric propulsion? In short, it’s an alternative to combustible engines, that instead of using kerosene (the type of fuel used by typical aircraft) use electricity to power motors. Typically, this involves using lithium-ion batteries and electric motors to make thrust which allows an aircraft to take flight. Through this upcoming approach to transition to all-electric vehicles, electric propulsions offer a range of advantages to the industry and the planet alike.
An obvious advantage of electric propulsion like any other electric vehicle is that it substantially reduces carbon emissions, which is the main factor for climate change. By replacing traditional fossil fuels with electricity, aircrafts would emit zero carbon emissions during flights: contributing to limiting climate change.
Cost efficiency- is one of the main advantages of electric propulsions. Even though electric propulsion is still at an early stage for any significant implications, it holds major potential for the future.
Offering a cost-effective advantage over traditional fossil fuel-powered engines. By relying on electricity instead of refined kerosene, electric aircraft have significantly decreased operating expenses. As fossil fuel prices continue to rise, the contrast between the costs of traditional aviation fuel and the comparatively stable electricity rates(which can be brought down to zero with solar panels) makes electric propulsion an economically compelling option. Moreover, the elimination of the fuel refinement processes further streamlines operations, reducing both complexity and expenses in the long run. The reduced complexity of electric motors will also lead to lower maintenance, and hence make air travel more economically viable.
Noise reduction-will also be a major contributing factor to costs. Companies tend to spend a large amount of money on the user experience of aircrafts , this involves noise reduction of the cabin, which increases cost. With electric propulsion, this can be minimised to almost zero. Benefiting communities and also enhancing the passenger experience.
While the advancements for electric propulsion seem promising there are still some major roadblocks.
Battery Density-at the moment lithium ion batteries energy density remains a significant limiting factor for long journeys; while also affecting the payload capacity. To achieve a higher payload capacity and make flights viable for longer distances, aircraft companies need to continue investing and researching in enhancing battery capacity.
Charging Infrastructure- In order to refill an electric aircraft, huge amounts of electricity will be required. Adding to that, charging speeds must be considerably high, as well as infrastructure set in place around the world, in order to achieve efficient operations from anywhere. On the contrary, this problem does not exist for traditional fossil fuels which makes it a more viable option, hence a hybrid system is more promising, rather than 100% electric.
Despite these challenges, the aviation industry has made significant advancements towards electric propulsion. Including developments such as the E-Fan X demonstrator, electric aircraft initiatives by startups, and NASA’s X-57 Maxwell.
As initiatives towards a sustainable future continue, electric propulsion holds the potential to revolutionise air travel. By harnessing this technology electric propulsion is likely to make an appearance in the near future.