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Battery electric plane


Technology Description

Battery-electric planes operate with an on-board battery as the sole motive power source. They have no direct emissions, yet the current energy density of batteries restricts the range of battery electric flights, as well as the size of pure battery electric aircraft.
A nine-seater seaplane, retrofitted with a battery and electric engine, held its inaugural flight in 2019 in Vancouver, Canada, trailblazing the development for small battery-electric aircraft on very short distances (the aircraft has a range of about 160 km),
In addition, a handful of prototypes of electric air taxis have been developed, However these are for individual passenger transport and do not substitute for commercial passenger aviation.
The weight of the current state-of the art batteries prohibits battery-electric aircraft of larger size and range than air taxis. The energy density of today's Li-ion batteries reaches 200 Wh/kg at cell level, which is almost 50 times less than the energy density of jet fuel. For a battery-electric short-haul aircraft with a range of over 1 000 km, a battery pack with at least 800 Wh/kg is needed. As this battery energy density is four times that of available battery technology, the future viability and potential range and weight of battery-electric aircraft will depend on significant breakthroughs in battery chemistry research.

Relevance for Net Zero

Unlikely to become available for medium or long haul flights, more suitable for short haul flights with maximum distances of 500-1200 km.
Battery electric aircraft may present an important eventual option for zero-emission short-haul flights, yet are nowhere near market introduction, and eventual introduction around the middle of the century would depend on significant leap in battery development (namely, on commercial viability of durable Li-sulphur or Li-air batteries at costs that make them viable for commercial aviation applications). Prototypes in an advanced stage are air taxis, which more closely resemble a drone than a commercial passenger aircraft and are far from the range and payload capacity that would be needed to service even short-haul commercial passenger flights.

Key Countries

United States, China, Germany

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