Author: Ӎ. Ní Sídach
Why do we have electric cars and trains, but few electric planes? The main reason is that it’s much simpler to radically modify a car or train, even if they look very similar to traditional fossil-fuel vehicles on the outside.
Land vehicles can easily cope with the extra mass from electricity storage or electrical propulsion systems, but aircraft are much more sensitive.
For instance, increasing the mass of a car by 35% leads to an increase in energy use of 13-20%. But for a plane, energy use is directly proportional to mass: increasing its mass by 35% means it needs 35% more energy (all other things being equal).
But that is only part of the story.
At Cranfield University, the laboratory for much of British aviation research, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, on Thursday urged the industry “to create an electric revolution in our skies”; for the climate and, incidentally, “to seize a share of a market that could be worth £4tn globally by 2050”.
Manufacturers are pursuing electric dreams: not just companies like Boeing and Airbus, but a host of tech firms, particularly for urban air mobility – aircraft that could be clean and silent enough to make shorter air hops possible without large airports.
When the rains stopped coming two years ago, transforming Denise Reid’s once flourishing banana fields into an expanse of desiccated wasteland, she was bewildered at first.