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Video: Lilium Jet Demonstrator Achieves First Main Wing Transition For All-Electric Aircraft

Watch as Phoenix 2, the 5th Generation all-electric Technology Demonstrator plane, achieves main wing transition – the first time a full-size electric jet aircraft has ever made the transition from hover to wing-borne flight.

Watch video at You Tube (4:25 minutes) . . . .

Electric Planes Are Coming Sooner Than You Think

Elissa Garay wrote . . . . . . . . .

Electric aviation is no flight of fancy: Leading airlines like United and EasyJet are onboard as early adopters, with the first U.S. commercial routes slated for 2026.

You may be boarding an electric plane sooner than you think. The first rollouts for a major airline—with United—are due in 2026, and countries like Denmark and Sweden have announced plans to make all domestic flights fossil fuel–free by 2030.

The past year has propelled the aviation industry ever closer toward a goal of viable commercial electric aircraft. United Airlines announced in July that it’s buying 100 19-seater, zero-emission electric planes from Swedish startup Heart Aerospace; they are set to take flight for short hops in the United States in 2026.

Over in Europe, EasyJet’s partnership with U.S. startup Wright Electric has led to development plans for the Wright 1, an all-electric, 186-seat commercial passenger jet with an 800-mile range that’s targeted to enter service around 2030. Up sooner still, Wright Electric additionally announced in November plans for an electric 100-seater, the Wright Spirit, due out in 2026.

While those are some of the front-runners, a host of aviation companies—from fledgling startups to industry titans and government agencies like NASA—are actively pursuing electric commercial planes in hopes of achieving carbon emissions–free flight. Experts say the trajectory is an environmental necessity in the face of a worsening climate crisis.

“We know that transportation is the single largest contributor to carbon emissions and to global warming right now. And flying is a big part of that,” says Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric.

Lukas Kaestner, cofounder of Sustainable Aero Lab, an accelerator in Germany that mentors global sustainable aviation startups, says the industry’s current fervor is representative of “the new zeitgeist, where global warming has become an issue that a growing number of people care about, and an issue people want to see addressed through action.”

Swiss bank UBS estimates a full quarter of the civil aviation industry will be hybrid or fully electric by 2035. The race to get electric commercial flight off the ground is on—here are where things stand.

Why electric aviation is taking off now

The aviation sector pumped about a billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, prepandemic, or about 3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. If left unchecked on its current fast-paced-growth trajectory, the amount of carbon from airplanes is projected to triple by 2050.

That puts the industry at odds with the net-zero carbon emissions deadline for 2050 set by the U.N. In October, most major global airlines signed on to meet that target, but the limitations of current fossil-fuel-reliant aircraft technology is a setback for such decarbonization goals.

Venkat Viswanathan, a Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineering professor and aviation battery expert, says that electric battery power is “going to give an avenue for addressing emissions, at least for a significant portion of aviation.” Yet he adds a caveat that it alone won’t resolve the carbon crisis: “I think there has to be many other pieces—many other competing technologies—that have to be considered for the full arc of the future of aviation.”

Aviation’s reach toward clean energy is coinciding with other areas of transportation, too. “The inevitable shift that’s already happened in the automotive world, that’s happening in the maritime world, we see the same trends in aerospace,” explains Engler, of Wright.

At the same time, governments are increasingly establishing policies to usher in a greener era for aviation. Scandinavia is leading the charge: Denmark and Sweden will make all domestic flights fossil fuel-free by 2030; in Norway, it’s 2040. France and Austria, meanwhile, have recently enacted bans on some domestic short-haul flights.

In the United States, the Biden administration is also making a push for slashing emissions, with an emphasis on a clean-energy transportation sector. Yet climate activists like Charlie Cray of Greenpeace say U.S. policies “are only just starting down the runway.” Cray says that the administration has focused too much on sustainable aviation fuels and rather “needs to prioritize the introduction and adoption of electric engine technologies for shorter passenger routes and cargo aircraft.”

What electric flight will look like

Electric planes, like electric cars, rely on battery-generated electricity for power, rather than standard liquid jet fuel. Yet today’s batteries aren’t nearly as energy-dense as jet fuel, requiring bulk and weight that pose significant aerodynamic challenges.

While batteries that are lightweight yet powerful enough for smaller electrified planes, operating shorter ranges, are increasingly viable, Viswanathan says that for larger airplanes, more significant battery breakthroughs—or alternative technologies—are needed. “You probably need like three, four times the weight of the airliner [in batteries] to be able to power that, which is why you can’t make them,” he explains.

Accordingly, the budding industry is most immediately targeting short-distance regional flights on smaller planes, which syncs up with a sizeable segment of aviation: About half of the flight routes operated worldwide today are less than 500 miles.

Electric planes are proving to be more economical for airlines, too, with reduced expenses around fuel and maintenance. Engler says, “For the airlines, we expect lower costs over time, and they can pass those savings on to consumers.”

Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures—the airline’s corporate venture fund—says the ES-19 planes it is purchasing from Heart Aerospace are 100 times less expensive to maintain, which offers “operational savings that can be passed on to our customers.”

Those lowered operation costs mean electric planes have the potential to revive short-haul routes to smaller regional airports, too, that were previously abandoned due to unprofitability. “Nineteen-seater aircrafts were the norm until a few decades ago for regional flights, until costs drove the industry to use larger planes,” explains Leskinen. He says the airline intends to use the ES-19s on more than 100 of United’s regional routes, out of most of its hubs.

Who the main players are

An estimated 200 global companies are currently pursuing electric plane projects, several of which have already made short and successful test flights. It’s a diversified competitive landscape where startups may have an edge—Sustainable Aero Lab’s Kaestner says that startups “are faster moving and much more flexible than the industry heavyweights.”

Smaller two- to four-person electric planes for private, corporate, and air taxi–type service—primarily via eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft—are already rolling out, with the first-generation technology backed by big names like Boeing, Airbus, NASA, and Toyota, along with a host of buzzy startups, including California’s Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, Germany’s Lilium, and the U.K.’s Vertical Aerospace. United, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Japan Airlines are among a growing number of airlines that have eVTOL orders on the books, with plans to debut a new kind of air taxi service as soon as 2024.

“Ten years from now, the flight from LAX to JFK will still not be electric, but you will probably be able to fly to the airport by electric air taxi at a very reasonable cost and emissions-free,” Kaestner says.

Six- to nine-passenger planes are also close to liftoff. Israel’s Eviation has developed a nine-seat electric plane called Alice, which regional U.S. carrier Cape Air is set to fly starting next year. Alice’s electric propulsion engine was built by its sister company MagniX, based in Washington State. Canadian seaplane carrier Harbour Air is also testing the MagniX system to retrofit its fleet, with hopes of debuting commercial service on the newly electric seaplanes later this year.

United’s larger 19-seat planes from Heart Aerospace are planned for short-haul domestic routes, out of hubs like Chicago and San Francisco, in 2026; regional U.S. airline Mesa Airlines and Finland’s Finnair have also signed on to purchase Heart’s ES-19s.

The largest electric plane in the works is Wright Electric’s 186-seat Wright 1, which EasyJet intends to operate as soon as 2030. Wright also announced plans in November for its 100-passenger Wright Spirit, which will retrofit BAe 146 planes (from British aerospace company BAE Systems) with electric batteries.

Retrofitting existing planes with battery technology is considered to be a significantly quicker path through certification than starting from scratch. “It allows us to get to market much faster and start to impact the carbon footprint of the industry much earlier,” Engler says. He estimates the retrofit will reduce the federal certification process to half the time, if not less.

Where things go from here

Apart from the engineering hurdles around batteries, experts see other barriers against the widespread adoption of electric planes. There are stringent and lengthy certification processes with regulators, funding challenges, and an acclimation period for the public to consider the new technology as safe.

And then there is the issue that electric aviation, targeting smaller planes and shorter routes, won’t ultimately put the kind of dent that’s needed into the industry’s emissions reduction goals. “On the emissions side, 95 percent of the carbon footprint of the industry is airplanes larger than 100 passengers,” Engler says, explaining Wright Electric’s decision to target the development of bigger planes.

Kaestner notes that since “transcontinental or even true long-haul operations are still out of scope for the foreseeable future,” cleaner emerging energies like sustainable aviation fuels and, further afield, hydrogen power, must be the industry focus for longer routes.

Hybrid-electric technology, which combines batteries with traditional jet fuel engines, is another promising strategy, with companies like California-based startup Ampaire and France’s VoltAero already developing hybrid planes.

“I think that hybrids are going to be an important bridge to hopefully, overall, all electric further down the road,” says Viswanathan, who explains that hybrids would offer fuel and energy savings, emissions reductions, and help get the public comfortable with electric flight, similar to what cars like the Toyota Prius have done for the automotive industry.

Experts say that consumers, too, hold the purchasing power to help drive a greener aviation industry. Overall, Engler says, “Customers are demanding cleaner, greener, quieter, lower-cost ways to fly.”

Herwig Schuster, of Greenpeace, says that environmentally conscious travelers should think twice before flying and suggests more immediate policy measures are needed “to tackle the out-of-control emissions from the aviation sector,” like flight reductions, short-haul flight bans, and investment in alternative greener modes of transport, such as rail. Without more urgent action, he cautions, “Greener fuels or electric planes will only provide emissions cuts that are far too little or far too late for today’s demand.”

Source : AFAR

What It’ll Take to Get Electric Planes off the Ground

Gregory Barber wrote . . . . . . . . .

A few years ago, while driving on a stretch of interstate between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Venkat Viswanathan began to feel a little existential. His trip was going smoothly—almost too smoothly, he thought. He would hum along for a few hundred miles at a time, stopping briefly for meals or to take in the early summer scenery. It was the classic Great American road trip. And it was hardly remarkable at all that he was doing it in an electric car.

Viswanathan, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, is an expert in high-energy-density batteries—designs that are meant to pack a lot of juice into not a lot of space. At times, this involves chemistry that can feel almost fanciful; the unobtanium of battery tech. But after that summer being propelled cross-country by a totally obtainable battery, he began to consider a different application for his work. “I was like, ‘Wait, what am I doing with all these new batteries I’m inventing?’” Viswanathan recalls. “Who is going to need them?” There was another way to travel coast-to-coast, he realized, one that batteries were far from decarbonizing: flight.

Over the past few years, the battery industry has largely focused on cars, yielding steady, incremental improvements to a particular scientific approach. This involves lithium ions that move between a cathode composed of a few metal oxides—including nickel, cobalt, manganese, and iron—and an anode made of graphite. This classic recipe has gotten pretty good. Recently, lithium-ion batteries have pushed the range of passenger cars past 400 miles—about as good as many combustion engines, and enough to overcome the “range anxiety” that might make some drivers reluctant to go electric. But as they approach the theoretical limit of how much energy they can store, lithium-ion batteries remain well short of what’s required for most aircraft.

The aviation industry has been grappling with this problem for a while. The industry contributes about 2 percent of global carbon emissions—a relatively small figure, but one that is poised to grow sharply as more of the world takes to the skies. (Only about one in 10 people take a flight each year, and a 2018 study estimated that 1 percent of the world’s population is responsible for half of aviation emissions.) If those planes are going to go electric, Viswanathan believes, batteries will need a radical rethink. Even regional jets meant for relatively short hops require batteries that are light but sufficiently powerful. They need enough power for takeoff, then enough energy to safely cruise over long distances. It’s possible that it will never be practical—and that greener aviation will require other approaches, like hydrogen or synthetic jet fuel.

Or by rethinking some battery fundamentals. Last week, along with other battery and aviation experts, Viswanathan published in Nature what he considers a “wake-up call” to the industry to invest in basic science beyond moving around lithium ions. In particular, the authors advocate for new cathodes involving more exotic materials, some of which produce what are known as conversion reactions, which move more electrons and can potentially pack more energy. It’s stuff that people haven’t really considered since the 1970s, when cobalt started to win out. The US Department of Energy project has set a goal of building a battery that can hold 500 watt-hours of energy per kilogram. Viswanathan and his coauthors think that for a workhorse of the skies, like the Boeing 737, we’ll need to double that, and we’ll need new chemistries to get us there. “We’re trying to move the goalpost,” he says.

THE LITHIUM-ION BATTERY is a chemical love story. Lithium ions and electrons, once separated from each other by a charge, always seek to be reunited. The wandering of these electrons across a battery cell is what generates a current. But in that sense, lithium is limited because it has only one electron to give up. In theory, more electrons moving around would mean more energy, which is something other elements can potentially offer. Try iodine, maybe, or sulfur or fluorine, and you can get more electrons buzzing.

But there’s a wrinkle in this plan. A beautiful thing about current batteries is that lithium ions can move back and forth without causing a fuss. They’re caught and released by the cathode—a process called insertion—but once inside of it, the ions don’t react with the other materials and reorganize the atomic arrangements. For some other elements, that’s not the case. “We have new materials that weren’t there to begin with,” says Esther Takeuchi, a battery scientist at SUNY Stony Brook. Hence the term “conversion reaction.” These chemical reactions are complicated, and they result in electrochemical changes, as well as changes in volume. But perhaps the biggest problem is then getting these types of batteries to recharge. Once you’ve changed what’s inside a battery, it can be difficult to return to the materials that were there before.

For the kinds of batteries Takeuchi works on, recharging isn’t typically necessary. Her specialty is packing lots of energy into small spaces, like medical devices, that need to last a long time on a single charge—a lifetime even, because a recharge or battery swap might require surgery. One of her older designs, involving vanadium, is ubiquitous today in pacemakers. But since then her team has studied how conversion chemistries, like fluorinated carbon (referred to as CFx) or iodine, might work even better.

For planes, the same principle of space- and weight-saving applies to staying aloft over long distances. But a battery that has only a single life won’t work for a plane that needs to recharge with every leg. In the lab, researchers have had some success in reversing those conversion reactions, but only to face other problems. One of the contenders that’s furthest along is the lithium-sulfur battery—a highly desirable chemistry because of how cheap and plentiful sulfur is. The issue is that unwanted reactions can occur between the sulfur at the anode and in the electrolyte. This can create chemical buildup that means the battery loses its ability to recharge over time. Sometimes, those reactions form a pesky thing called a dendrite—a vein of material in the electrolyte that gradually extends and may eventually connect the anode and the cathode, causing a short-circuit—and a fire.

WHILE CONVERSION REACTIONS involve a lot of novel chemistry, Takeuchi points out that they do not totally ditch the path batteries have taken so far. Any new cathode chemistries will also depend on the success of nearer-term improvements to battery capacity, such as new anodes made of materials other than graphite.

One of those is lithium metal. While graphite was a good choice because of its stability, lithium metal has some improved electrochemical properties, and it simply takes up less space than conventional designs. Richard Wang, CEO of Cuberg, a lithium-metal battery startup recently acquired by Northvolt, a Swedish battery manufacturer, says its design gets a 70 percent boost in energy density. Wang decided to focus his startup on the aviation industry because it would place higher value on energy density improvements. The company’s idea is to power relatively small aircraft; they have partnered with startups that want to make vertical liftoff vehicles that can operate over a short range.

It’s possible those lithium metal anodes could be paired with more experimental cathode chemistries to power larger aircraft, but the path is uncertain, Wang says. It’s a classic pickle: Plane makers want certainty that big-leap technologies will work out, while the battery startups (and their potential funders) need assurances that their experiments will eventually have a use. The truth is that plane makers may find it less useful to electrify bigger planes, he says. They might decide to stop with batteries that handle short regional routes. For longer routes where existing batteries are less practical, there might instead be hybrid approaches, where a gas engine takes over between takeoff and landing, or greener jet fuels, or perhaps hydrogen, if the infrastructure gets sorted out along with a green way to produce it. No one is sure just yet where to place their bets.

George Bye, the founder of Bye Aerospace, calls that the “white space” of electric plane innovation. He draws a solid line of progress for lithium-ion batteries that power small electric aircraft, like the two- and four-seat training planes his company builds, and after that a dashed line of lithium-metal and other almost-there innovations, like solid-state batteries, that will stretch out the capacity and distance that electric aircraft can fly. Then, after that—who knows? White space. His own company has explored lithium-sulfur for larger aircraft, but found it not quite ready for prime time. “It’s a little bit behind,” he says; one partner working on the technology recently went bankrupt.

One silver lining, Bye says, is that the weight and balance benefit of replacing a complicated jet engine with an electric battery means the plane can be designed to move more efficiently through the air. That helps extend the range and passenger capacity. “It’s not apples to apples, as some people like to say,” he says. The company is also working toward FAA certification on its training aircraft, so that it can begin delivering the hundreds of orders it has received from flight schools and airlines. Among the challenges is proving that the plane can handle fire risks—a matter not just of chemistry, but the structural design of the battery packs—and still pull an emergency landing even if a battery blows.

Large electric planes with radically new batteries may be decades away. But Takeuchi maintains that there is “room for optimism” for battery-powered jets. “Sometimes people ask if this is even possible in our wildest dreams,” she says. “And when we look at the materials and we look at the numbers, we say, ‘Yeah, it is.’” She and her coauthors point out that the future of aviation was initially electric. In 1884, the first round-trip flight by an aerial vehicle—the airship *La France—*flew by the power of a massive zinc-chlorine battery. Nearly a century and a half later, she thinks electric is ready for a comeback.

Source : WIRED