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Electric Plane Adoption Faces an Uphill Battle Thanks to Physics

n all-electric passenger plane took its first flight this fall, potentially heralding the entry of air travel into the electric age. Or does it? The Eviation Aircraft Alice you see above only cruised at 3,500 feet, traveling at 260 knots (or 300 miles per hour) for eight minutes. ( More...

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belzybob 46
One thing the article fails to mention is that a large part of 160,000kg of jet fuel burns off as the flight progresses, but the battery weight has to be carried for the entire flight.
Ken McIntyre 18
I guess you do a battery dump during the flight rather than a fuel dump. /sarc
Peter Fuller 12
Battery-powered airplanes need to be designed and certified so that max landing weight equals max takeoff weight. That brings weight penalties from having to carry the full battery weight and from the need for beefier landing gear and associated structure, plus removes the option of arriving onto a shorter runway at light weight with most fuel burned off. Everything’s a trade off….

For the foreseeable future, biofuels are the way to go for large long-range airliners if the goal is to reduce fossil-fuel carbon dioxide production.
Hal Gates 10
And also understanding where batteries make sense and where they don't. Smaller all-electric airplanes are closer to commercially viable in the near term, with shorter missions and lighter payloads. SAF makes more sense for long haulers, and likely will for a long time to come. Like you're getting at, engineering is almost never one answer for all questions.
Tim Dyck 2
Bio fuels require land converted to crops to make the biofuel. The world just passed a population of 8 billion people, the population will continue to rise and those people need to eat so we will need more land for food production not less.
1scatman1 1
Soylent Green, and no problem anymore
1scatman1 1
Soylent Green, no problem anymore
Dan Grelinger -5
At what cost to society?
gil graham 6
They also forgot to mention the pollution created from making the batteries and the pollution created to make the electricity.
James Simms 2
Not to mention the strain in the power grid from all of these ev’s & electric airplanes. Guess there’ll be delays /cancelled flight when rolling blackouts pop up.
Excellent point! But one that would be totally lost on the woke public.
bentwing60 2
They don't want to know,

run spot run, jump spot jump, take the shot spot, spot got a clot!
Lewis Tripp 24
Wise folks on this blog. At 75, I won't lose any sleep over electric airliners. It's a fools erand.
ToddBaldwin3 14
They probably said the same thing about the Wright Brothers first flight. Before that, they said the same thing about steam engine, calling them "Fulton's Folly".
bentwing60 7
The limitations of practicality sometimes outweigh those of possibility. Ax a bean counter.
sparkie624 2
That just made me think... Looking at 8 Minute Flights... A Flight from Saint Louis to ORD in a CRJ200 is about 30 minutes, In my single engine plane about 1.5 hours, by this electric plane it would be 4 stops just to charge the batteries... (8 Minute Flights) with 2 hours on the ground each stop to charge the batteries... 24 minutes flying time. 2 1/2 hour minimum to fly from KSUS to KORD, which is 1/2 the time just to drive your car! I know the Wright Brothers did not speed or distance records based on today's flights, but they were the first to do it successfully!
siriusloon 8
How long did the first powered flight last? A few seconds, yet as the technology improved, we now have scheduled airline flights lasting 15 hours.
Brian Watts 2
More like 20 hours
sometimes it just seems like 20 hours
Stefan Sobol 3
Expecting the a first flight of a new aircraft design to demonstrate its full operating range is unrealistic. Even the big conventional aircraft manufacturers don't do that. First flight just shows that the thing actually flies more or less how they expect it to.
strickerje 1
It's good to push the envelope of what's viable, but when a proposal violates the laws of physics, it would be wise to recognize that and not waste time on it.
Dan Grelinger -2
They said the same thing about cold fusion 30 years ago. It's so wonderful that Pons and Fleischmann didn't listen to the critics and brought cold fusion generators (cheap and green!) to the masses!
bentwing60 6
Send me one to replace my generac, /S. Cold fusion is no closer to reality than a practical battery powered airliner!
Tim Dyck 1
Cold fusion is still in the infantile stage and won’t be viable for decades to come.
Bandrunner 1
My cold fusion basement genset developed a fault, resulting in the entire neighbourhood falling into a black hole and is now somewhere out near Alpha Centaurus. ACME Generators just don't want to know, citing some clause in the warranty.
siriusloon -4
Yes, because the public are all as super-know-all as you, right? Using "woke" as a pejorative (look it up, Sparky) completely undermines any chance you had of sounding like you know WTF you're talking about. Your post was solely to vent about your perceived enemies.
royalbfh 15
You obviously understand what Robey was saying. Which means you are informed. The term "woke" merely means that a good majority of the public will only focus on the fuel=bad vs battery=good. At this point in our industrial technical era, there is no way that batteries can do the jobs that fuel can do. Look at the vehicles that are coming in short of the published range expectations. I do not want to fly an airplane that will not do the desired mission.
boughbw -6
Just because we can "understand what Robey" was trying to say doesn't mean he gets a pass on misusing a word he barely grasps. Kudos to siriusloon for calling him out. Robey wants to grind his ax with his secret agenda in opposition to progress on anything then fine, whatever - but let's not pretend he is immune to criticism for what he expresses. He can make his point flying with Luddite Airways.

As for the rest, you will never have the opportunity "to fly on an airplane that will not do the desired mission" because of the "industrial technical era" we are in. It will not happen because it makes no sense on any level -- such planes will not be manufactured or sold, airlines will not buy them, and the government will not approve them. The same thing applies to traditional fossil-fuel airliners.
strickerje 2
"Woke" is the its adherents originally called themselves that (starting nearly a century ago, in fact) - a play on "awakened" as a euphemism for enlightened (as in, alert and paying attention). More recently, those same people pushed further and further into the realm of every racial/ethnic/gender-identity minority being oppressed (and everyone not part of said minorities being oppressors) that the term became a punchline in pop culture, and subsequently a stand-in for other leftist views as well (e.g., electric vehicles as savior of the environment). Ergo, it seems the usage here was appropriate.

The idea that criticizing EVs is akin to opposing progress and being a Luddite is part of the problem, since it just shuts down legitimate discourse. There's no denying electric cars are significantly heavier than their ICE counterparts because of their batteries. In automotive, this isn't a dealbreaker, but in the weight-sensitive realm of aviation, it is. Anyone who looks at these sorts of electric airplane tests and thinks that electric intercontinental airliners are right around the corner is deluded.
strickerje 2
Sorry, started revising my first sentence and got sidetracked mid-way through - Before someone pounces on that and ignores the rest, that should have been "Woke is what its adherents originally called themselves".
Mark Kortum 7
The article's calculations don't appear to take into account the reduction in weight as the jet fuel is spent while a battery pack stays heavy charged or not. That makes the comparison even worse for electric.
Randy Brown 6
Until a completely new battery technology is invented batteries won’t replace jet fuel.
Over the last 100+ years rechargeable battery tech has gone from lead acid to nickel cadmium to nickel metal hydride to lithium polymer. An amazing improvement but no where close to what is needed.
A thousand pound car battery stores the energy of less than one hundred pounds of fuel.
At the current level of LiPo tech we are 10 times too heavy.
I guess that some new as yet undiscovered battery composition could be discovered that would reduce the weight of current technology from 1000 pounds to 150 pounds but I really doubt it.
Cell phone batteries scare the FAA. A battery runaway on a 5000 pound battery would be catastrophic.
Maybe 100 mile trips for 10 passengers for low altitude VFR only, battery swap for decent turnaround.
Think Kingair 90 with a 10,000’ ceiling and 100 mile range with reserves but at greater cost.
W B johnson 6
"The specific energy of jet fuel is around 12,600 watt-hours per kilogram. This means that with 1 kilogram of fuel, you could get a power of 1 watt for 1 hour..."
Not a physicist, but I don't understand this calculation. I thought this would suggest you get 12,500 watts for one hour, not 1 watt for 1 hour (?)
Jranderson777 1
I didn’t follow that logic either. Turns out the article misquoted the original Wired story. Here is the original, and it makes more sense: “ The specific energy of jet fuel is around 12,600 watt-hours per kilogram. This means that with 1 kilogram of fuel, you could get a power of 12,600 watts for one hour—assuming you can use all of the energy, which you can't.…”
sparkie624 21
A good article giving true realism to Electric Airliners! I doubt GA will be much better! But one thing it does not mention is what happens to all of those batteries in a Crash or what happens when they are on a long trip and have Thermal Runaway! I certainly do not want to ride on one of those planes at anytime in the future.
Mike Mohle 12
No one will, actually.....
boughbw 5
I'm all for pushing the envelope. That's how progress is made. Maybe this application will be found unsuitable for all-electric powered by batteries, but lessons learned here will be applied elsewhere.
linbb 11
Didnt need any article about it knew from being around reality for 78yrs working around AC for years and understanding what it takes to make 1LB of bs fly. Just like solar and wind being our future saving the planet power source.
siriusloon 7
What happens to thousands of gallons of combustible aviation fuel in a crash?
gil graham 4
Same thing that happens if you don't crash - it burns up.
Alan Glover 1
You're right!

Better to walk.
gerardo godoy 4
The pollution of Batteries start at the Mines!!!!! and are right now killing kids. So what's new???
Tom Bruce 4
think aviation responsible for 2% of carbon emissions? why not get rid of the hundreds of coal fired power plants in China-India...???
Nice solution. How would you help them grow and have their energy needs taken care of?
wayne holder 1
I agree but I would start with the automobiles/trucks first as there's approx 1.4 billion of those. It might have a bigger impact
SorenTwin 3
Even worse - fuel weight conitually reduces during flight. Battery weight doesn't.
John Taylor 3
People below are saying good thing the Wright brothers didn't listen to the naysayers. The issue is that there are physics limitations on some technologies no matter how long and how hard one tries. The physics limitations were far beyond what the Wright brothers were trying to accomplish. There are just some things that no matter how badly you wish for something, physics just says no. Now, I'm not saying electric planes will never happen but as far as our knowledge of physics is concerned, there are limitations for now.
Tim Dyck 2
The Wright Brothers first propellers were total failures but they used physics to overcome their problems. You can either work with physics or against physics but I can guarantee that if you work against physics you will fail.
Consider that technologies change and the battery of 1930 isn't the battery of today and certainly won't be the battery of 2050. The first transatlantic flight of a passenger aircraft was 64 years ago, measure that against flights from New York to Singapore and New Zealand to Dubai. Don't measure what will be by what is, or you will end up looking the fool as the world passes you by.
Alan Glover 9
Where will the energy come from to charge the batteries?

The amount of energy required to do work will never change. No matter how efficient a battery becomes, it will always need charging....and the fossil fuels burned and the land mined and the waste from spent batteries to achieve these technologies will always neutralize any environmental benefit sought.

To date and for the foreseeable future, only fossil fuels can provide the energy in sufficient quantities to run the world.
Technology as pointed out has massively improved regarding jet and IC engines and will continue to do so...but ff will be required.

I believe the best compromise is the hybrid.

Just like ff plants will always be required to back up alternate sources of energy (the woefully inadequate and also polluting wind and solar), a vehicle that can carry the ff to run the ice that will charge the onboard batteries will benefit greatly local air quality while providing the reliability we have come to expect.
boughbw -1
Texas last year (2021) shows you just how well fossil fuel "backed-up" renewables. So well that it triggered inflationary waves the economy will be coping with for years to come. That is what happens when your entire economy is based on petroleum and petrochemicals. We can't get rid of them and certainly not any time soon -- but let's get rid of their capacity to bring the economy to its knees. Right now the major problem to alternative energy sources providing more electricity is the fossil fuel industry.

Battery reprocessing is an area that will have to be developed. But it is all chemistry and physics giving rise to industrial solutions to make that happen. The solution is out there, it just needs to be found.

Cell-based wind and solar and geothermal can power quite a bit of our electrical needs. Get rid of long distance transmission lines. Instead of putting large batteries in automobiles, why not provide "third rail" metro system-like electrical transfer (think slot cars)? Most people use their automobiles for local travel anyway. And if you're tying to the electrical grid to drive, suddenly automated driving becomes much easier.

I agree with you that a hybrid approach to powering airliners is probably the best bet. I'm not sure a battery-based approach to flight is a good solution or will be anytime soon -- but I can't blame them for trying. If the battery weight problem can be addressed for flight, think of how many other applications would benefit from it. I applaud them for pushing the limit as far as it will go. Maybe it won't work out here, but it will work out in other ways.
ed george 4
Spot on. All the naysayers here remind me of the maudlin spectators at the beginning of "The Right Stuff."
People that use the words "never" and "can't" when it comes to progress are hilarious.
strickerje 1
Sure, it's possible a battery that packs the energy density of today's fossil fuels and can safely "refuel" (recharge) just as quickly will be invented tomorrow. But to bet on a breakthrough that's far from guaranteed without any sort of contingency plan is unwise. It's good to push the envelope, but it's also good to be realistic and not bet on snake oil.
Batteries operating in the colder higher altitudes will definitely have a negative performance effect. The manufacturers are definitely squeamish to invest all their capital into electric planes just yet until all the bugs are taken care of. Just one electric plane falling from the sky may stop passengers from wanting to fly in them.
Mark Kortum 2
The article's calculations don't appear to take into account the reduction in weight as the jet fuel is spent while a battery pack stays heavy charged or not. That makes the comparison even worse.
Dan Boss 2
The article has the correct conclusion, but has the intermediate numbers completely wrong. The author attempts to quote from some other dim witted reporter about specific energy of Jet fuel. They state it is about 12,600 watt-hours per kilogram. Well not actually correct, Jet Fuel has 43 MJ/kg and a Joule is a watt-second. So 43 million Joules is 11,944 watt-hours. (43,000,000 Joules / 3,600 seconds in an hour) So let's say 12,000 wh/kg

Then they go on to state this is only 1 watt for 1 hour??? No 12,000 watt-hours is 12,000 watts for one hour, or 1 watt for 12,000 hours!

Yes a gas turbine is probably about 35% efficient, though I would argue it is closer to 45% but let's stick with 35% so that 12,000 watt-hours per kilogram is reduced to a useful energy of 4,200 watt-hours per kilogram.

Then we have batteries at a mere 250 watt-hours per kilogram. So Jet fuel is 16.8 times more energy per kilogram of weight required.

But that is not the only drawback - we utilize the energy from the jet engines to keep the passengers and cargo from freezing, and we use it to heat the leading edges of the wings and engine cowls to prevent icing! (we use "bleed air" taken from the compressor stages, which a battery powered plane does not have, hence an additional 20-30% reduction of the battery's available energy is used for these ancillary functions)

Thus not only does an Electric aircraft need to use the scarce battery energy to provide thrust, but also to pressurize, heat the cabin and cargo, and provide necessary anti ice functions by heating the wings/cowls or having icing boots, etc.

So easily that 16.8 ratio for jet fuel vs battery turns into 20 or 25 ratio when you account for needed ancillary energy draw for safe flight! So a 747 which can fly 13 hours on jet fuel, could not even fly for the 45 minute reserve required by the FAA on batteries! (13 hours divided by 20 is 0.65 hours or 39 minutes of flight)

It's a stupid pipe dream made my brainwashed ****** who believe in unicorn farts and fairy dust solutions! (CO2 is NOT the boogeyman it is made out to be, it is the ESSENCE of life for without it there are no plants and without plants there are no animals or oxygen! To be aligned against CO2 is to be against LIFE!)
strickerje 0
I'll give them a pass on 12,000 being pretty close to 12,600, but the next sentence was definitely a head-scratcher - I assume they meant to say "1 w*h is the ability to power 1 Watt for 1 hour" and just mistyped 1 kg of fuel instead of 1 w*h. I have no idea where the author then calculated 13.5 hours and 6200 miles of range without knowing how much power it takes the 747 to sustain the assumed cruising speed and altitude, but those numbers do more or less match Boeing's claimed specs.

So, what ultimately matters (and how the author should have presented it) is how much usable energy is in 1 kg of LiIon batteries vs jet fuel. Using the author's assumptions, we get 4000 w*h (12,000 w*h/kg potential times ~1/3 efficiency) for jet fuel and 125 w*h/kg (250 w*h/kg potential times 1/2 efficiency) for LiIon batteries, or about 3% as much. Thus, the hypothetical electric airplane's range is 3% that of the 747, or... about 24 minutes and 186 miles (300 km), which is about what the other said. I'm inclined to believe he actually did the math right and just botched the write-up.
Tim Dyck 2
Damn science getting in the way of ideology again. How can we go green if science won’t co-operate? For those of you who do not speak fluent sarcasm that’s sarcasm.
But to be serious the Wright brother’s first flight only lasted about 12 seconds but showed the path forward. Every step is a step forward and maybe some day Electric Planes will be viable.
wayne holder 2
If the world wants to go electric on everything you'll have to go nuclear as batteries don't offer the reserve capacity need to fly extended distances.....and to be honest I'll never fly on one until I see NASA use them to propel their vehicles into orbit.
Colin Seftel 2
In the future we will have electric aircraft, but they will be powered by fuel cells, not batteries. Fuel cells have many benefits over conventional combustion-based technologies currently used in power plants and vehicles. Fuel cells can operate at higher efficiencies than combustion engines and can convert the chemical energy in the fuel directly to electrical energy with efficiencies capable of exceeding 60%. Fuel cells have lower or zero emissions compared to combustion engines. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water, addressing critical climate challenges as there are no carbon dioxide emissions. There also are no air pollutants that create smog and cause health problems at the point of operation. Fuel cells are quiet during operation as they have few moving parts.
Pretty much the same things happening in the auto industry, only with political bull-headedness thrown in the mix. If these politicians REALLY cared about the environment and had zero agenda, they'd be pushing hybrids there. The logic of going full electric with our current state of battery technology and charging infrastructure blatantly reveals their hand.
Elliot Cannon 2
It's a good thing Wilber and Orville didn't listen to all the criticism.
Peter Myo Khin 2
Thoughts on hydrogen fuel-cell powering electric turbines? Similar to FF, weight of hydrogen fuel diminishes as it is used up, I'm sure a decade or two from now fuel-cells and accompanying batteries will change significantly, and so will the electric powered turbines. So, this may be a viable solution, just a thought from a consumer.
Rodney Burton 2
Many of the comments here don't relate to the anticipated electric plane market, which is VTOL, short range, low altitude, low noise for use at urban "vertiports," and low passenger capacity. As such eVTOLs are closer to passenger helicopters than airliners.
Tim Brink 5
Seems they will never learn, no matter how much of our own money the biden administration throws at green energy they seem to NEVER learn- science can't be bought. And why certain countries that went all-in on the green new deal are turning BACK ON their coal fired electric plants.
There are some very exciting alternatives being tested like hydrogen or NASA's new Graphene battery or what Tesla Energy is quietly working on.
Whenever politicians with a blank check get involved the end result is opposite of the objective.
Tim Dyck 1
The trouble with politicians is they are only concerned with how much money they can siphon off for themselves or get back in kickbacks.
mcrossbow24 3
The laws of physics are a threat to the "green" and woke communities. Unfortunately it will take fatalities from dead batteries to wake the woke.
ed george 2
We went from the first powered flight to the moon in under 70 years. We're literally in the early years of electric flight. I recommend watching this so you can tell your grandkids "I remember when."
and lithium does not like -40C temperatures either does it? so we need major global warming at altitude !!!
Dan Grelinger 1
Just use the batteries to run heaters to keep the batteries warm! ;-)
bentwing60 1
Why not use "cold fusion generators (cheap and green!) to the masses!"
John Yarno 1
Not all of his numbers make sense, and the "Environmental and Energy Study Institute" does not sound like anybody I would trust not to doctor or invent their figures. Basically his conclusions regarding energy consumption sound good however. If you could fly with a compact nuclear reactor or such (Fusion anyone?), and generate power as you flew, it could work just fine. I think we are almost there, but the power source can not be anything close to today's battery technology of today.
pilotboobbear 1
Is my math off? The article states, "The specific energy of jet fuel is around 12,600 watt-hours per kilogram. This means that with 1 kilogram of fuel, you could get a power of 1 watt for 1 hour".

Wouldn't one kilogram of jet fuel give you 1 watt of power for 12,600 hours?
A. Highsmith 1
I wouldn't fly on one for anything. It is cold at 30k altitude and you know what cold does to batteries.
apro 1
Ask the city of New York why they cancelled their program to transform their fleet of garbage trucks to battery power. HINT: Their decision was not motivated by the fact that an electric garbage truck cost as much as a fire engine.
Get ready for an all electric booster rocket for a manned Mars voyage.
Lonnie Penner 1
bentwing60, you are spot it
jbermo -1
Any way you look at it, we are slowly, slowly poisoning ourselves with the ever-increasing numbers of combustion machines.
David Bier 4
Well the air today is certainly much cleaner than it was 100 years ago when most most homes and factories burned coal for heat (and no emission scrubbers then). What some call poison to humans (Carbon Dioxide) is life to the plant world - which in term converts it to oxygen. So I'm not buying that we are poisoning ourselves with ICE engines.
boughbw 1
So what about leaded fuel? Carbon monoxide? Nitrogen oxides and acid rain? Contamination of the environment with petroleum, distillates, and antifreeze and the like?
David Bier 4
There is absolutely no doubt that the air is cleaner now than 100 years ago. Coal, wood, kerosene and less refined oil burned for heat and power in the past added much more air pollution than we have now. I suppose we could go back to horses as buggies in pursuit of your supposed pure air of the past - but then we'd die sooner without the massive benefits of the countless petroleum based products that we use hundreds of times each day.
paul trubits 1
100 years ago the Earth's population was 2 billion. Now it is 8 billion and still rising. Got to start somewhere
A. Highsmith 1
Why don't you go live without petroleum products and let the rest of us alone.
If lead was as bad as they say it is, we'd all be either dead, or unable to feed ourselves due to severely diminished cognitive ability, and anyone born after 1985 would be a genius.
Mika Bjork 0
Only good for woke fools.
Sree Raghavan 0
There appears to be one other difference between the two technologies that perhaps could make a difference. Theoretically, batteries could be refreshed at least in part to extend their range using wind or solar power during flight. When this technology is made feasible on such planes, could it help?
It all began with "man made global warming". The only way to end that is to have complete control of the Sun. Revisit Newton's second law of thermodynamics.


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