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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on April 17th, 2019 | by Nicolas Zart


Can Flying Cars Save The Environment? These Scientists Seem To Think So

April 17th, 2019 by  

It might run counter to what most believe, but electric vertical takeoff & landing (eVTOL) aircraft could be better for our environment than the congested wheeled mess we have on our roads. A few scientists have been trying to determine this and are on the side of the eVTOL aircraft.

Photo by Lilium

Flying cars, driving airplanes, air taxis — all of them are part of what is called urban air mobility (UAM), which will enable us to lift off from specific spots (heliports, vertiports, etc.) to anywhere fairly nearby. But the white elephant in the room is the energy consumption and efficiency of such UAM. What about the impact on the environment?

Flying Cars Could Save The Environment

Nature.com quotes a study that came from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainability Systems that explores how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would rise or fall with eVTOL aircraft. The university team found that eVTOL aircraft “can” emit fewer greenhouse gases than their ground-based counterparts today. The team took into consideration various types of flying vehicle prototypes. A baseline was established using emissions and energy data found in various academic sources.



Bell Nexus eVTOL Air Taxi

Bell Nexus eVTOL Air Taxi



As we would have imagined, the research shows that tilt-rotor/duct/wing eVTOL aircraft are pretty efficient in cruising mode but not as much when taking off and climbing. Range, passengers/cargo, and distances are critical assumptions, of course. The university team found that traveling 100 km (~60 miles) point to point with one pilot in an eVTOL results in well-to-wing/wheel GHG emissions dropping 35% compared to a single-passenger road vehicle powered by gas or diesel. However, they would be 28% higher than a single-occupant fully electric car.

In other words, even an electric flying car (or VTOL aircraft) is greener and more efficient than a normal gas car — but not as green as an electric car like the Tesla Model 3 (or the dozen or so other electric cars on the market).

Load up the VTOL aircraft with more passengers and the story changes, of course. “Comparing fully loaded VTOLs (three passengers) with ground-based cars with an average occupancy of 1.54, VTOL GHG emissions per passenger-kilometer are 52% lower than ICEVs and 6% lower than BEVs.”

Can We Say For The Environment Sake, Don’t Drive Drive Cars, Fly eVTOL Aircraft?

I’m not sure if we’re there just yet, but incredible energy efficiency eVTOLs are promising on paper, especially if they get going commercially as fully loaded air taxis.

Will we then have a two-speed world of slower road vehicles and faster small aircraft fleets? We can be sure that they gradually will get better, and many of us believe we will indeed see the same prices in the air as on roads — Uber included.



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About the Author

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

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