Originally published on Sustainnovate.
Reportedly the first hybrid airplane that can recharge its batteries took off this week. It is the product of airplane giant Boeing and Cambridge University researchers. The result is an airplane that 30% less fuel than a comparable 100% petrol plane.
“The petrol engine works with the battery-powered one at take-off and climb, when the plane needs extra power, but the electric motor can then switch into generator mode and recharges the batteries, or help the motor in minimising fuel consumption,” The Independent writes.
Of course, hybrid-electric cars have been popular for awhile now, and there are dozens and dozens of models on the market. There are also numerous 100% electric cars on the market. 100% electric planes are a bigger challenge because of the tremendous amount of power needed to get a plane into the air, but there’s a lot of sense to hybrid-electric planes, and I could see them becoming commercial products within the next decade. We now have a pioneer in this realm.
Of course, the big bottleneck to hybridization of planes has been batteries. Batteries have long been too expensive for practical commercial use, but they have been coming down in cost quickly in the past few years.
“Although hybrid cars have been available for more than a decade, what’s been holding back the development of hybrid or fully-electric aircraft until now is battery technology,” said Dr Paul Robertson of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who led the project. “Until recently, they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity. But with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries, similar to what you’d find in a laptop computer, hybrid aircraft – albeit at a small scale – are now starting to become viable.”
Here’s a video about the news as well:
Reprinted with permission.