Solar energy may be replacing fossil fuels as the power source of the Russian civilian aircraft industry not too far into the future, based on where some of the country’s funding is going.
What happens to the aviation industries of the world as fuel prices continue to rise? What are the alternatives? Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (Minpromtorg) seeks to answer these questions by ordering several new studies into possible fuel alternatives for its civilian aircraft industry. Among the most prominent of those alternatives is solar energy. A considerable amount of money has been allocated for this research, RUB628 million ($21 million).
In a recent statement from the Minpromtorg, it was stated that new research on this subject is a necessity as Russia’s domestic airline industry expands and increases its fuel requirements. The ministry mentions that reducing fossil fuel use will have other benefits in addition to reducing costs, including helping to cut down on emissions.
Minpromtorg says it intends to make RUB628 million available for the studies. The ministry is expected to select successful companies, via a tender process, to conduct the research by this March. The results are then scheduled to be presented in 2015. If successful, they will then be shared with Russia’s aviation companies. This is the second project dealing with the use of solar energy in aircraft, undertaken by the Russian government. The first was initiated by Russia’s Ministry of Defense, and investigated the use of solar energy in light aircraft. However due to unsatisfactory results, the project was stopped in 2010.
The problem of what happens to the aviation industry when fossil fuels start becoming prohibitively expensive for civilian flight is one that needs to be addressed. Without alternatives fuel sources, will flying simply become something that is only for the rich and the military again?
Electric aircraft have been around for quite some time already, with the first flight of an electric aircraft being back in 1957 (and a disputed claim of a flight in 1909) — the primary choices being between those powered by batteries, solar cells (such as the Solar Impulse), or power beaming. But, so far, none of the technologies available could really support the same functions that fossil fuel–powered aircraft currently support. New research and technology will be a necessity if the large scale civilian use of airplanes is going to continue into the foreseeable future, as the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade seems to know.
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