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New Zealand strait crossed for first time by electric plane

32 Comments
By NICK PERRY

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“We still had 40% left in the battery,” he said. “We could have almost flown back again.”

That is pretty awesome. Maybe the future of recreational piloting.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

first thing he saw when approaching the Wellington coastline was the rotating blade of a wind turbine producing renewable energy.

For me those are both positive signs showing the fossil era is waning. Followers of the fossil oligarchs and fossil state rulers like MbS, MbZ, Putin and others in the global far right pushing to maintain the wealth and control held by those running the global fossil economy probably see those signs differently. Perhaps they see them like blacksmiths saw the birth of the auto era.

Stop burning so much coal, oil and gas. Long passed time to switch over to relying more on alternatives.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

“We could have almost flown back again.”

This is not a phrase that one normally wants to use in aviation. But I agree, this could be the future of pilot training for basic flight school as almost all training flights are less than 90 min. in length.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Do the GED grads even know where New Zealand is and what tectonic plate it is on...plates....that is a trick question for you super whizzes?

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

Amazing. Well done.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

A step forward. A small one, but in the right direction.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Sorry to break it to you, but electric aviation is not going to be revolutionary. At best it will be a niche to be filled by short haul and very low capacity regional markets to replace kerosene guzzling ATR-42 or Dash 8-100 turboprops. And even that is generous.

Hydrogen fuels are only slighty better as they are very unsafe to carry on planes and they take up a lot of weight to pressurize in liquid form. They cannot be carried in the wings.

When it comes to aviation, kerosene fuel is hard to beat.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

If the top of the wings were solar panels they would continuously trickle feed the batteries giving another ten minutes of flying time or more. Going in the right direction but all EV makers bar a couple are missing the opportunity for free power for the life of the vehicle. Parked on the tarmac and charging during the day time will keep batteries at full charge and with only one hour to charge via charging the panels may fully charge a plane kept for a few days on the tarmac in the sun without hooking up to a charger.

It's is not rocket science.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

These guys built an electric plane and you are trying to teach what a solar panel does?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Sorry to break it to you, but electric aviation is not going to be revolutionary. At best it will be a niche to be filled by short haul and very low capacity regional markets to replace kerosene guzzling ATR-42 or Dash 8-100 turboprops. And even that is generous.

Change doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It might take time and refinement. Every gadget in our home was unimaginable a few generations before.

Aviation above all else has had its naysayers since, well since the first person tried to fly. Denying the importance of this feat is just lining up in a long queue of people who were wrong.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

biofuels and hydrogen will likely provide greener alternatives in the future.

Hydrogen? I guess HindenburgAir, we will explode with excitement!

The fantasy of Hydrogen has to be let go. Only large oil companies are peddling this because they are used to controlling the entire supply chain.

Meanwhile for short distances a plane can receive microwave transmissions and pick ups in the wings. This was demonstrated to work on a Cessna in the 80's. If a plane flew in a made microwave corridor it might be able to suppliment the power needs.

First to be electric will be smaller planes going short distances but that will only spur development

And it's not going to be hydrogen and biofuels.

The race is the for the aircraft battery

2 ( +3 / -1 )

When it comes to aviation, kerosene fuel is hard to beat.

Were I your 1st year Civil Engineering Professor I’d be disappointed and wondering what worth the 2nd year might bring.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Bob Fosse

The developments in battery technology are commendable, but that is nothing compared to what kerosene fuel can do. Jet fuel is still the most energy dense fuel available by a longshot. Battery technology is reaching its physical limits, even with advancements in solid state batteries. Liquid fuels that release energy readily from bonds of hydrocarbon molecules are simply better. It all comes down to practicality and in the cut throat aviation industry where airlines go bankrupt all the time, this is even more pronounced.

Aviation above all else has had its naysayers since, well since the first person tried to fly. Denying the importance of this feat is just lining up in a long queue of people who were wrong.

Some industry experts criticized the practicality of supersonic aviation going mainstream back in the 60's. Nobody listened to them as that was the golden age of aviation. Look at how that turned out.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Sorry, Greenies, but mobius is correct. Electric may work with the lawn-hopper mini-prop planes, but for the big jets, kerosene is not going away. Why? Well, aside from the energy density of kerosene, it is also depleted as it is used, unlike batteries which are dead weight. Planes consequently land lighter than they take off which is a benefit for many reasons.

If you start loading batteries on a jet liner, accept that you will have no weight budget for baggage and maybe even passengers.

This is a fact.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

If you start loading batteries on a jet liner, accept that you will have no weight budget for baggage and maybe even passengers.

This is a fact.

“Sorry Greenies”? What do you have against people trying to better things? The current battery technology, older than you or I, is the best we have. For now.

The single biggest hurdle for our civilization is a new form of battery. It’ll come, though It’s very disheartening to see first year engineering students give up already.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@sf2k

I agree, Hydrogen is unsafe for aviation. But it is leagues better that batter electric power. But if the world wants to properly transition to a renewable energy economy, then green hydrogen is absolutley necessary. Australia and Africa have enough excess renewable energy to power the world. How else are you going to get that excess power across oceans to places that need them most, like Japan and Korea.

Meanwhile for short distances a plane can receive microwave transmissions and pick ups in the wings. This was demonstrated to work on a Cessna in the 80's. If a plane flew in a made microwave corridor it might be able to suppliment the power needs.

A Cessna can carry only 4 people and with enough reserve power in store? Probably. Do you have a source for this? It makes sense to invest money in something like this for the military. A small electric powered drone that can stay up indefinitely powered by microwave beams from a remote locations is great for surveillance.

The champions of the aerospace industry, Airbus and Boeing are only seriously studying hydrogen and biofuel concepts for high capacity, medium to long haul aviation.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Battery weight depends on the battery. A lead acid battery with the pillars replaced wrapped around glass instead of all lead reduced the weight a lot, so it's all going to be in the engineering tricks and discoveries as we focus on the problem.

The notion of airport charging is interesting, maybe removable battery to reduce the delays.

It just means the designs will have to change based on the energy sources. A more foil shape design is in the works, pretending everything is going to be hot-swappable from high density fuels to other means isn't how this is going to go.

Large airlines are just such a specific design that's going to be the hardest obstacle. Should we run out of specific fuels due to Peak Oil they would be the first to crumble anyway. Peak Oil is not about zero fuel it's when you pass 50% of a stock such that it is no longer profitable to retrieve the remaining 50%. Whenever that happens it will be in our lifetime.

It's not just the environmental reasons here, there are going to be increasing fuel shortages in the future as these are limited resources. This will affect the drive for replacement aviation, whatever form it takes

It may very well be that these small plane designs will be the only reminents of the original aviation age as the source of energy changes.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

it is also depleted as it is used, unlike batteries which are dead weight. Planes consequently land lighter than they take off which is a benefit for many reasons.

Yes I forgot to mention this. Consider the worlds longest flight by Singapore Airlines from Newark to Singapore and back on an A350-900ULR. That flight is probably at max fuel capacity and at its maximum take-off weight. If the plane had to return to singapore due to an emergency it will have to dump 3/4 of its fuel to land back in singapore. If it landed without dumping fuel it would be massively overweight and explode in flames on the ground. In this regard hydrogen fuel is better.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Sorry, Greenies, but mobius is correct. Electric may work with the lawn-hopper mini-prop planes, but for the big jets, kerosene is not going away. Why? Well, aside from the energy density of kerosene, it is also depleted as it is used, unlike batteries which are dead weight. Planes consequently land lighter than they take off which is a benefit for many reasons.

If you start loading batteries on a jet liner, accept that you will have no weight budget for baggage and maybe even passengers.

This is a fact.

And there was me thinking this was a technological feat deserving of praise, and inspiring others to strive for innovation to overcome the present shortcomings of battery capacity and mass.

A day for optimism and praise.

Who knew?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The champions of the aerospace industry, Airbus and Boeing are only seriously studying hydrogen and biofuel concepts for high capacity, medium to long haul aviation.

Yes indeed, and they're finding it's not 1:1 hot swappable, you have serious diminished capacity in range and and safety that the airplane could blow up on the tarmac. Fuel is amazing not only for its energy density but for it's manageable safety. Aviation had a wild early age

In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is! (Yogi Berra)

I don't see practical application of the energy problem so in my view right or wrong we're going to find that the designs themselves are not going to be compatible to any replacement energy system and thus the designs will have to change. Reduced capacities, shorter distances. Saving fuel for ocean only crossings as we fall slowly down the energy ladder. Then figuring out what to do after that's gone.

There's a lot of work to do

0 ( +1 / -1 )

SpaceX had this design choice as well I recall, moving from RP1, basically kerosene, to a mix of more common fuels. Still spurred a LOX shortage (liquid oxygen) with COVID at the same time, but may be more likely as the replacement fuels with equivlanet energy densities.

Maybe instead of mining for extravagent minerals we should park an asteroid in orbit and mine it for the hydrocarbons we need for aviation and other industries.

If the battery is just impossible to do, this would price the space race to actionable Earth goals

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The usual ignorance and references to the Hindenburg on display as soon as Hydrogen is mentioned. Try doing a little research, there are companies all over the world researching the storage of hydrogen in solids soon high pressure gas or ultra cold liquid.

Hydrogen is simply not that dangerous if managed properly. Explosively flammable hydrocarbon fuels also need proper management, but we are just used to them so we forget/ignore their inherent dangers.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

@Bob Fosse

Well I am as disheartened as you are. But we have to accept physical limits of batteries. Alternative fuel concepts have been tried way back since the sixties by the Soviets and Americans. The best ones that have worked so far for large aircraft are hydrogen fuel and biofuels derived from algea.

My bet is on Biofuels and/or hydrogen, becuase that is what actual Aerospace engineers at Boeing and Airbus are working on. They already flew a Boeing 777F test bed on 100% biofuel derived from plants, used cooking oil and animal fats.

And that brings me to another point. Research and devlopment in the aviation industry is insanely expensive and its takes a very long time to not only create a new revolutionary product but also for market forces to make it profitable. It took only a decade to make solar and wind energy competitive and cheaper than coal.

But it took more than 40 years since the dawn of the jet age to make aviation affordable for the middle class. And it took even longer than that for for us develop the material science, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and advanced manufacturing techniques just to make Ultra high bypass turbofan engines. Jet engines back it the day were a joke.

It is much easier to transition to biofuels as it requires very minimal R and D. We already have genetically engineered algea that have 70% lipid content that can be used to economically make biofuels. We just need to scale up the process to bring down the cost of algea biofuel from $8 per barrel to $1 per barrel to compete with oil.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hydrogen doesn't contain the energy density, is odourless, invisible, and is a univeral solvent, it breaks down materials. It deteriorates any container, eventually. The solid chemistry debacle reminds me of BMW. This is why BMW and others abandoned hydrogen cars because the conversions back and forth then the car breaking down too easily was just such a waste of time and money. They threw billions away. Time to duplicate that failure in aviation as no one will learn this lesson

0 ( +2 / -2 )

When something doesn't contain the same energy density as amazing jet fuel, that means the range of a current plane in its current design will have diminshed range. It means it would have to be refueled multiple times more often, and routes now would have to be scaled dramatically back. I don't accept this as a road to go down.

It is a design requirement meantioned earlier about cross ocean travel capacity. Hydrogen in whatever form, will not and cannot satisfy this requirement. Like the small plane above, it may be for limited use but if that's the case then the aviation battery whenever the breakthrough occurs will render it obsolete due to complexity almost immediately.

Given the failures in the automotive industry with hydrogen it's not more decades of time we have to waste

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I think I'll stop here. We'll see how it goes but given the obvious technical failures by hundreds of engineers to date the fantasy of Hydrogen will server only to waste our time and be about geopolitics of keeping oil companies in business not about the actual real innovations we need to focus on

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This bickering about electrifying aviation is a waste of time and money. It is impractical first of all as explained in above comments. Secondly the aviation industry accounts for only 2% of global CO2 emissions.

https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector

Everything else comes from energy consumption, road transport, shipping, agriculture etc. for which we already have green workable solutions but the lack of political will to do anything about it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This bickering about electrifying aviation is a waste of time and money. It is impractical first of all as explained in above comments. 

That’s the same argument horse drivers used when Ford started.

I’d have hoped this news would be inspirational to a young engineer. Don’t blame politicians.

If you dismiss the mavericks, idealists and dreamers you would have to ignore most of our civilization’s history.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Yes, the maximum landing weight would also have to be the maximum take off weight.

The bio-fuels with plant and animal fats would be even better if they used bacon fat. People would love to smell planes going overhead.

How about we try getting the hundreds of passengers on large planes peddling... with the flight attendants flogging them with whips?

Or how about wind-powered planes? Oh, wait...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is a possible alternative to kerosene based aviation fuels.

https://newatlas.com/aircraft/reaction-engines-ammonia-carbon-free-aviation-fuel/

Incidentally Warstila has a big diesel engine, and by big I mean four stories tall, they are using to investigate mixtures of ammonia and hydrogen for maritime propulsion and stationary power generation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Peter Neil

Sorry if I wasn't clear before, maximum landing weight is lower than maximum take off weight, which is why large planes with liquid fuels can dump them easily to lose weight quickly for emergency landing. You can't do that with batteries, unless you have some mechanism to jettison the batteries from the aircraft over the ocean, which is impractical.

The bio-fuels with plant and animal fats would be even better if they used bacon fat. People would love to smell planes going overhead.

That was just an experiment done by Boeing for proof of concept, to show that large modern airliners can easily swap jet fuel for biofuels derived from disposable sources like vegetable oil and biomass including animal fats.

Of course this would not happen in a large commercial scale, as creating aviation biofuels from conventional sources like corn or vegetable oils would be very inefficient, costly and damaging for the enviornment which defeats the purpose of carbon neutrality.

The most likely contender would be genetically modified micro algea:

The have very high lipid content so lots can be grown in a small area to harvest fuel.

They grow very quickly, so you can harvest and process fuel daily, whereas corn based biofuels take many months.

Algea can use industrial waste, sewage or even flue gases from gas or coal power plants as a closed cycle system for reusing waste to acheive carbon neutrality. And so on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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