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VoltAir Electric Aircraft Concept

Is an electric-powered aircraft possible? Now that jet aircraft have been identified as a serious source of carbon dioxide, as well as condensation trails (contrails) that inject vapor high into the atmosphere, research into the idea has been growing.


(VoltAir electric plane video)

it's very welcome to read of a plan from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS, for short) to develop an all-electric aircraft that it hopes could fly the skies within 20 years.

Here's how the idea—which EADS calls an "upstream research concept, not a near-term commercial approach"—would work. The VoltAir, as the plane is tentatively dubbed, would be powered by enormous lithium-ion batteries, with energy densities of 1,000 Wh/kg. (Extrapolating from recent progress in battery research and development, EADS thinks this goal attainable in two decades.) The jumbo batteries would then power motors, which would drive counter-rotating propellers at the plane's tail end. And as if it were some child's toy, once the plane has landed, airlines could simply swap out the spent batteries with pre-charged ones, cutting down time currently spent refueling.

Setting matters of conscience aside, EADS thinks an all-electric aircraft would also lend itself to a generally improved in-flight experience. The plane would be quieter, for one thing, both because the engines would be inherently less noisy and because they'd be sequestered at the rear of the plane. The novel shape of the fuselage EADS envisions would also make for a more spacious cabin, meaning less clambering over fellow passengers or squeezing awkwardly past them in the aisle.

IN his 1930 novel The Black Star Passes, sf great John W. Campbell writes about an aircraft powered by electricity from solar power.

"Dad, I believe that you have been trying to develop a successful solar engine. One that could be placed in the wings of a plane to generate power from the light falling on that surface..."
(Read more about Campbell's solar-powered aircraft)

Via MIT's Technology Review.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/21/2011)

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