One of the first public demonstrations of energy efficient air travel took to the air last week at the Berlin Air Show, in the form of a fully electric airplane.
The E-Fan, engineered by Airbus Group, is propelled by two 30-kilowatt electric motors, themselves powered by a series of lithium-ion batteries fitted into the plane's wings (a 6 kW electric motor in the main wheel gives it some extra thrust on the ground). "It's a very different way of flying," said Jean Botti, chief technical and innovation officer at Airbus Group, told ClimateWire, "absolutely no noise, no emissions."
While commercial, emissions-free air travel is still a very long ways off, the successful launch of this tiny two-seater marks a major first step toward that very goal, ClimateWire reports:
Airbus Group's ultimate goal is to make a 70- to 80-person hybrid-electric commuter jet with three hours of range in the 2050 time frame. Initial designs of the E-Thrust aircraft show the plane with six electric-powered fans that will be powered by a gas-fueled energy storage unit during the ascent and cruise phase and then glide using electric power alone while descending.
In the next step toward achieving this, Airbus will make a next-generation two-seater electric plane, set for launch in 2017, and a four-seater electric plane with a gas-powered range extender, set for launch in 2019.
These advances are steppingstones toward realizing Flight Path 2050, the European Union's aggressive goal to reduce the aviation sector's nitrous oxide emissions by 90 percent, noise pollution by 65 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2050.
Right now, the E-Fan can only remain in the air for an hour, which means that range anxiety -- which accompanies electric vehicles of all sorts -- is bound to be a concern: The fear of getting stuck on the side of the road is one thing, while the terror of being in an aircraft when its batteries die is quite another. To that effect, the E-Fan is equipped with a backup battery and a parachute.
More on how it works -- along with footage of its very first flight -- below: