The Toyota Prius was the first commercial hybrid to be sold. That was over a decade ago in 2000, and now pretty much every auto-manufacturer has some model that uses hybrid engine technology. It was only a certain amount of time that other types of transportation adopted the technology. Now, a team of researchers at Cambridge University have been funded by Boeing to bring the world the first hybrid-electric aircraft.
The aircraft, a small one-seater, uses a combination of an electric 10KW and gas 7KW engines to turn the propeller. An article from Cambridge university claims:
The demonstrator aircraft uses up to 30% less fuel than a comparable plane with a petrol-only engine. The aircraft is also able to recharge its batteries in flight, the first time this has been achieved.
When the aircraft takes off and needs maximum propulsion, both the electric and gas engines engage, helping the aircraft get into the sky. When cruising, the aircraft can charge the batteries on board and use the electric motors to assist propulsion. Dr. Paul Robertson, a researcher in the team, says that battery technology was the main hindrance to putting hybrid-electric technology in the air.
Until recently, they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity. But with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries, similar to what you’d find in a laptop computer, hybrid aircraft – albeit at a small scale – are now starting to become viable.
Sixteen lithium-polymer batteries are carried on board and power the electric motor.
Boeing’s end game is to have fully electric motors in commercial aircraft and this is the first stop along the way. The technology would bring extreme efficiency to aircraft, reducing carbon emissions. This vision is a long way off, though.
If all the engines and all the fuel in a modern jetliner were to be replaced by batteries, it would have a total flying time of roughly ten minutes.
So let’s all cross our fingers and hope for some massive breakthroughs in this technology. But, for now, I think we’ll have to grit our teeth, swallow the rising prices of air travel, and trust the ingenuity of humanity to invent something even more amazing than they already have.Source: Cambridge University Research