As one of the biggest contributors towards noise and air pollution, scientists and researchers have spent decades looking for cleaner, more efficient ways to fly. And similar to the motor industry, hybrid technology is proving to be a real possibility for aviation, thanks to the success of several recent test flights.
A growing number of companies, including Uber, Airbus and EasyJet, are all currently working on projects to get hybrid planes off the ground, with the promise of bringing hybrid aircraft to the commercial market within the next ten years.
But why has it taken so long for the technology to take off and how far can it be applied? Read more below to find out.
How does the technology work?
Hybrid-aircraft will still require fuel to complete the journey; however, using hybrid technology scientists have developed batteries able to power the motor for take-off, which significantly reduces current emissions released by planes. It will also allow for a smoother, quieter take off; which will benefit both the environment and passengers.
Why has it taken so long for the technology to take off?
In short, planes are far more complex than any other form of transport – hence the slower progress when compared to how quickly hybrid and electric motors in cars have been introduced.
Currently, batteries are far too big and heavy for a plane to carry. To put things into perspective, jet fuel gives around 43 times more energy than a battery that’s just as heavy. Although hybrid engines may not be a complete solution, they’re a start. Battery technology is constantly improving, so while all-electric planes are a long way away, scientists are looking at the possibilities for the future.
For now, the majority of hybrid aircraft has been designed for only a handful of passengers. From air taxis, to single-passenger jets, here are some of the most talked about projects so far:
Up to four passengers can fit in Uber’s air taxi, and due to its electric technology, it is quieter, more efficient and less expensive than a traditional helicopter. The company hopes to pick up customers by air from 2020.
Zunum, a Seattle-based start-up, has already received its first order from private jet company Jetsuite, who want up to 100 of the 12 seater hybrid planes by 2022. These planes will be able to fly up to 700 miles, a number which they hope to increase to 1000 by 2030.
Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens
Last year, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens announced plans to collaborate on a hybrid-electric test aircraft that will fly by 2020, with the aim of having a commercial jet ready to fly by the 2030s.
Unfortunately in May one of the test planes crashed, causing fatalities – so for now testing has been halted.
Easyjet and Wright Electric
EasyJet and Wright Electric have partnered together in the hopes of delivering one of the world’s first hybrid commercial passenger planes – capable of carrying far more passengers than current competitors’ planes. If all goes well, EasyJet and Wright Electric plan to use these planes for short haul journeys of up to 335 miles.
The biggest advantage of this technology is of course that it’s better for the environment, with hybrid technology producing no direct emissions. There are also several other potential benefits for the aviation industry. Electric powered motors are cheaper to operate than fuel powered engines; which could mean lower costs for airlines and perhaps cheaper fares for passengers.
Electric-powered engines also promise to be quieter for passengers and those living near airports and offer a smoother, more comfortable flight.
Lastly, as battery technology continues to develop, their capacity is getting bigger and their cost cheaper, thus making it an increasingly viable option.
While hybrid planes are a great alternative for short haul flights, their range is limited, as the batteries require charging, which limits their application for longer journeys.
Furthermore, hybrid planes aren’t currently as powerful as fuel-powered jets, which mean journeys will take longer. For example, Zunum’s hybrid plane has a maximum cruise speed of 340 mph, while the average jet can reach cruise speeds of 550mph.
Safety and reliability also need to be addressed, especially if the technology is to be used on a more wide-scale basis.
Overall, the potential of hybrid technology for future aviation is exciting. However, with questions over safety and journey distances remaining, it’s difficult to predict how far hybrid technology will go and if fully-electric planes will be possible in the near future. But for now, it’s a start.