Bjorn’s Corner: Why e in ePlane shall stand for environment, not electric. Part 1.

December 13, 2019, ©. Leeham News: The first all-electric commercial aircraft, a Harbor Air DHC-2 Beaver, flew over the Fraser River near Vancouver in the week (Figure 1). It was powered by a magniX electric engine fed with energy from batteries.

Despite this progress, this Corner series is about why the e in our future ePlanes should stand for environment and not electric.

Figure 1. Harbour Air seaplane flying with a magniX electric engine feed by batteries. Source: magniX.

The electric aircraft hype and why it should be changed

The electric aircraft hype comes from the fact it works for cars. Applying electric propulsion to aviation is seen as the most promising way to get us to an air transport system that has a lower environmental footprint.

On a number of Fridays, I will argue why it doesn’t.

We have lost our way in our search for a lower carbon footprint air transport system by heading down the electric lane. I will argue why it’s not the best route as it’s not the route that leads to tangible results any time soon, despite huge investments.

It’s a route with high technical hurdles and it involves a lot of unknown unknowns on the risk side. We are still at the first peak in the Gartner hype curve (Figure 2) and we need to pass the trough of disillusionment before we make real progress. And this will take at least a decade.

There are lower hanging fruits in the tree but the electric hype stops us from seeing them and from directing our efforts more intelligently.

Figure 2. The Gartner hype curve. Source: Wikipedia.

Why e should stand for environment

With the above provocative statements done, it’s time to cut to the chase. Why should e in ePlane stand for environment and not electric?

It becomes more and more undeniable we have a global warming problem caused by us burning the globes fossil fuels created millions of years ago. This creates CO2 gas which warms our planet when it aggregates in the atmosphere.

The math is simple. A unit of burned fuel creates a unit of CO2 gas.

We don’t have to bother with the factor between these units. The key is, it’s proportional. So if we want to reduce the CO2 load on our atmosphere we need to burn less fossil fuel.

This is our target. And then the e shall stand for environment as our target is less environmental load on our planet.

But then electric is the route! We can load the aircraft with energy produced by a grid system which does not burn fossil fuel!

No, it’s not.

If our focus is e as in environmental footprint there are better routes to the target. Less investment intensive, less fraught with disappointments and less risky. If our chase is about e as in environment electric is just one of our tools and not a hot one at that. We will spend several Fridays going through why. I can give a hint of where we are heading.

Our CO2 loading of the atmosphere comes one to one from our aircraft’s fuel consumption. The way to significantly lower the fuel consumption of our airliners does not go via electric hybrids or full electric aircraft.

We describe better routes in the next Corners.

65 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Why e in ePlane shall stand for environment, not electric. Part 1.

  1. If you are saying that the route to zero carbon emissions is zero carbon in the fuel – H2 hydrogen, NH3ammonia for instance – then you are right only at first sight.

    An aircraft fleet powered by hydrogen or ammonia, whether burnt or put through fuel cells or both, would indeed emit no CO2 at all. But the bigger picture is that the carbon fuel you think you’re saving isn’t being left in the ground. It’s being extracted and burned by someone else, probably at a lower price cost because airline demand has gone down, and it is turned into atmospheric CO2 anyhow.

    The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will keep going up until there is concerted international agreement, that is abided by, to leave fossil fuels in the ground, untouched and for those states in which those reserves lie to unilaterally forfeit their value. That is a feat far outside the capabilities of civil aviation. It may indeed be impossible to bring about. Oil and coal are effectively concentrated, congealed money, and money won’t be ignored by those who are sitting on it.

    We can plant trees.

  2. Burning LH2 (liquid hydrogen) made from renewable electriciaty in fuel cells aviods the range problem. The first German jet Engine ran on hydrogen to make sure it started.
    There is a French nuclear power plant making LH2 (and LOX I assume) for the Arianne rockets launched in S. America shipping the by boat, don’t know how much boils off on the trip.
    In theory wind farms with 10-15MW turbines could also produce LH2, Airports can be pretty windy and could have space for them along the runways at a safe distance.

    • The LH2 production site for Ariane 5 flights is located in Kourou, French Guiana, next to the launch site, and is operated by Air Liquide Spatial Guyane.
      It is not nuclear energy powered… And there is no boil-off on the sea trip from Europe to S. America, as the launcher stages are carried empty.

      BTW, the sentence “the electric aircraft hype comes from the fact it works for cars” may well apply also this new hydrogen hype. High-pressure storage for fuel cells or small aircraft is one thing, but using LH2 on commercial aircraft really is another story. Way to go…

      • I might got old data, there was a nuclear powerplant in france producing LH2, might have been closed. LH2 is not easy to handle due low temp and hydrogen embrittlement. Fuel cells will probable replace the APU first.

        • Hydrogen embrittlement is an issue with the hot stuff.
          ( major hassle in ammonia synthesis. solved in an interesting way, by the way 🙂

    • I never thought about this but yeah, a wonderful idea to be sure. Here is some interesting read:

      The use of hydrogen in turbines and jet engines is similar to the use of conventional jet fuel. Hydrogen use will avoid the problems of sediment and corrosion on turbine blades due to hydrogen’s lack of impurities and its cleanliness. This prolongs life and reduces maintenance. The gas inlet temperatures can be raised beyond the normal temperatures of 800°C and thereby increasing the overall efficiency. Another advan- tage is the low combustion products, water vapor and only small amounts of nitrogen oxides.
      Liquid hydrogen as a fuel has several advantages for commercial subsonic and espe- cially supersonic aircraft. The most important advantage is its high energy content (per mass, 2,8 times higher than for conventional jet fuel) [4]. A liquid hydrogen powered aircraft would therefore have to carry one third of the fuel mass of a con- ventional aircraft. This means smaller engines, higher fuel utilization, reduced noise and more payloads. A subsonic hydrogen fueled passenger aircraft will on average need 16 per cent less fuel than a comparable conventional aircraft to complete the same flight. This advantage is higher in a supersonic aircraft (28 per cent).
      Due to the low density of the fuel a hydrogen-fueled aircraft will generally have a slightly lower lift-to-drag ratio (L/D) and a lower wing loading than conventional air- craft. Hydrogen requires a very large volume. This is the reason why the L/D-ratio is lower despite the fact that liquid hydrogen only requires one third of the mass. It has been found advantageous to carry the fuel (LH2) in the fuselag resulting in larger fuse- lages than for conventional aircraft. Because of the low weight of fuel, the LH2 air- craft is much lighter to take-off and therefore needs less wing area. Liquid hydrogen can also be used as heat sink so that hot parts of the engine can be cooled effectively and efficient.
      Another aspect is that hydrogen is actually a safer fuel for air transportation than presently used jet fuel. This is because of hydrogen’s characteristics and a different construction of hydrogen fueled aircraft [4].
      A commercial airliner (Tupolev 154) with one of the three turbofan engines fueled with liquid hydrogen was demonstrated in April 1988, see Figure 8.1. In June 1988 an American pilot became the first to fly an aircraft fueled only by liquid hydrogen [4].
      German and Russian companies, including Daimler-Benz Aerospace, and its divi- sions Airbus and Dornier, and Tupolev, have since 1990 been jointly working on the development of hydrogen-powered propulsion technology for civilian aircraft, see Figure 8.2. Project activities are currently been concentrated on the following topics:
      • Development of technologies and components for the cryogenic fuel system and the engines of future series aircraft
      • Realization of a hydrogen demonstrator aircraft
      A Dornier 328 aircraft equipped with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW 119 engines has been selected as a baseline for a hydrogen demonstrator. The first flight is esti- mated for late 1999 [4].

      Copied from http://ieahydrogen.org/Activities/National-Documents/Task-18/Sweden/Hydrogen-tubine-Engine.aspx

      • In an era of essentially unlimited budget, unlimited freedom to do what one wished with materials no matter how expensive or filthy to manufacture, and considerably less concern for human life among test pilots and early adopters, Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works was unable to make hydrogen work as an aircraft fuel. Given that no one has been able to to exceed the performance of the vehicle that succeeded the hydrogen project – the A-12/SR-71 – despite huge advances in material science I suspect that the road to pure hydrogen propulsion is very long and hard.

      • I read that as you need a bigger storage for the same amount of energy.

        It seems shooting yourself in the foot.

        • For the same weight liquid hydrogen takes up 9 times the volume of kerosene but as it has 3 times the energy one ends up with a fuel that takes 3 times the space but is 1/3rd the weight. This is quite workable, proven by rocket boosters. BMW made cryogenic storage tanks for cars. They were a double walled vacuum tank with 30 layers of aluminized plastic as an infrared barrier. The tank could handle a little pressure so the car could be parked for 4 days without loss. A 10 minute drive would reduce the pressure and it would be another 4 days before loss. There was a catalytic unit in case no one took the car for a drive. This would work very well for aircraft as vacuum tanks are not heavy and foam insulation almost as good. Tanks could still fit in the wings but one would simply have largish tanks under the wings eg Lockheed JetStar configuration.

          • Now Toyota and others make carbon fiber H2 tanks fast and pretty cheap. Still not aircraft size. One could imagne a twinA321 with one of tje CFRP bodies as the fuel tank for H2 or LH2

      • the problem is the energy density by volume penalties, leading to extra structure, insulation etc literally outweigh the energy density by weight penalty of dense, easy handling Kerosene

      • ” hydrogen is actually a safer fuel for air transportation than presently used jet fuel. This is because of hydrogen’s characteristics”

        Tell that to the people on the airship Hindenburg. It has of course the highest rating on the flammability scale, way more of a problem than most jet fuels

        • The Hindenburg fire had been traced to the ignition of its flammable skinning material and any injuries caused by burns were caused by diesel fuel igniting in the crash to the ground, all up the casualty rate was about 1/3rd.

          • Same goes for any conflaguration, a spark.
            Still was highly inflammable hydrogen that fed the fire and myths about flammable fabric can’t change that.
            Apparently a lot of people were saved as the fire and crash happened in ‘slow motion’ and extremely brave US Navy sailors of the landing party ran towards the survivors to assist

      • “The use of hydrogen in turbines and jet engines is similar to the use of conventional jet fuel. ”

        The issue currently is the pollution in the provided oxygen. ( talk with RR 😉

    • Cryogenic hydrogen is very workable, cars and vans have been running experimental road trials in Europe for decades and the technology is mature enough to use (at a cost). It’s simply a cost factor; you need electricity cheap enough to compete with. It would all be easy had we proceeded with safe, clean viable nuclear. The total efficiency for electrolysis followed by liquefaction is about 58%. It turns out that hydrocarbon syntheses from hydrogen and atmospherically obtained CO2 is now just as efficient. There has been tremendous progress in reducing the energy cost of drawing CO2 from the air (direct capture) about 1 KwHr/Kg to 1/4 that. This has a long history but folks seem to assume it’s inefficient (but it isn’t). The huge advantage of this is that the fuel can be made in remote regions rich in wind and solar and it is also no longer important to have constancy of supply. A cloud or stillness of wind had little effect. This is by far the best way to go as aircraft will need no change at all except increase efficiency to compensate for the extra cost of the fuel. Cost of production is price of electricity plus a small margin.

      • Now Toyota and others make carbon fiber H2 tanks fast and pretty cheap. Still not aircraft size. One could imagne a twinA321 with one of tje CFRP bodies as the fuel tank for H2 or LH2

        • These are compressed hydrogen tanks operating at 10,000 psi. Viable I think.

          • Theres supposed to be Piper M converted to run on H2, 6 business seats and a 2 ton takeoff weight being trailed by ZeroAvia.
            Seems to be compressed hydrogen is fed to fuel cell to run electric motors instead of piston engines

  3. Hi Bjorn, I do not agree fully with you that electrification is not the future for aviation. For short distance flights up until 500 or maybe 1000 km it is still a viable option, especially with smaller payloads up to 20-30 passengers perhaps. So there might be a future for regional lines. And there are several airlines which are confident enough to spend some money on this (Easyjet for example).

    However, for distances over 1000 km we will need a huge (and very unlikely) breakthrough in battery technology. Chemical energy storage will probably always win out over the long distances, given the fact that it is several orders of magnitude higher in terms of specific energy.

    Anyway, I will be looking forward to your next Corners!

    • It seem the limit is more like 100 miles and with far fewer pax.

      The Beaver carries (6?) and 30 minutes.

      100 mph or so, 50 miles. Ergh. Long ways to go to 600 miles and 30 Pax.

      And the Electricty source ? Dams, fossil fuel etc.

      • Bjorn previously did the numbers for a small electric commuter

        ‘ Our electric commuter has an empty weight of 6 tonnes with a Max Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 7 tonnes (one tonne of passengers with bags is added). The 7 tonnes remains constant during our 150nm trip,”

        “Our gas turbine design has three tonnes empty weight. To this we add one tonne of passengers with bags and 500kg of fuel. Take-Off Weight (TOW) is 4.5 tonnes. During the trip ~100kg of fuel is used. We land with 4.4 tonnes landing weight.”

        “The electric commuter is consuming more energy than our gas turbine driven one, as it’s heavier and doesn’t get lighter during the trip. ”
        https://leehamnews.com/2017/09/08/bjorns-corner-electric-aircraft-part-11/

        The electric engine is more efficient than the gas turbine one but the advantage is not overwhelming like a road vehicle .
        The killer is the higher drag from the weight of batteries, and the numbers in that evaluation were generous for the energy efficiency of current battery tech.
        The real world of production batteries AND those that are flight certified plus reserves means we are looking at a factor of around 100 compared to energy density of kerosene.

        Im wondering if the very low temperatures at cruise altitude, while improving cooling, will reduce the energy available for propulsion while at cruise.

        The DHC2 Beaver is a good trial aircraft , as the old radial engine was heavy compared to the modern electric one and helps offset the heavy batteries. The maximum range ( lightly loaded) was around 700km.
        The electric range will be far lower to reduce the weight of batteries needed.

        • I have no issue with them playing with it and they clearly have a limited goal mission that will work.

          Of course you have to come up with the Certification’s for something that different (I wonder how the Canadian AHJ does?)

          Lot of bucks spent when you could just put a modern diesel on the front a whole lot cheaper!

      • https://weflywright.com/ That’s about right. Wright Electric estimate 175NM range with current battery tech which could be extended to 850NM in a hybrid configuration. Obviously a large APU can provide for occasional emergency reserves for headwind, hold and diversion. They’re now saying 295NM with advanced batteries. That will allow flights from Dublin to London. Current battered tech is 248WHr/KG with a C3 discharge capability. Practical electric flight will require 800WHr/KG. That’s possible, there seem to be several lab batteries achieving 500 in small quantities and some 800 chemistries.

        • No no .
          The way aviation works is you halve the current energy density for flight certified batteries.
          Lab stuff is focused on small mobile devices that have a life of 3 yrs or less, as thats where the money is

  4. Electric aeronautical propulsion for commercial aviation definitely has a future, most probably a present, in the short range, regional market.
    Airplanes like the ATR72 and the Q400 can practically and economically operate with electric motors, fuel cells and green hydrogen.
    As for long range, high altitude, high speed commercial flight, why exactly do we need that? Call them, do a videoconference, for work-related needs. And oh yes, nearby beaches are as nice as those on the other side of the planet.

    • sorry, but no, the nearby beaches in North Dakota are not as nice as the beaches in the Caribbean. 🙂

      • ND beaches are worse than AK beaches.

        Ours tend to cold and not amenable to beach lounges (or resorts) but ………………

        And we have mountains to block the wind.

        Hawaii is a quite popular AK Airlines destination! At one time we had DC-10 service there.

    • Lets see, the Tsunami is on the way and our biggest problem over fishing?

      Got it.

    • “It becomes more and more undeniable we have a global warming problem caused by us burning the globes fossil fuels created millions of years ago. This creates CO2 gas which warms our planet when it aggregates in the atmosphere.”

      That is a testament of the power of Socialization over the power of Science. Science looses always.
      Nothing like that was proved by Science. It is ridiculous to assume certainty of anything when not even temperatures are measured reliably and even less we have a history of temperatures when 2/3 of earth is water…i am not even going to attribution of what causes decimal degrees celcius changes or if we even know what factors affect earth climate and the weight of such factors.

      Might be good to remind here that most scientists are wrong and science is wrong most of the time…

      La quale immaginazione è così fondata, che quel medesimo appunto che affermano i nostri vecchi a noi, affermavano i vecchi, per non dir più, già un secolo e mezzo addietro, ai contemporanei del Magalotti, il quale nelle Lettere familiari scriveva: “egli è pur certo che l’ordine antico delle stagioni par che vada pervertendosi. Qui in Italia è voce e querela comune, che i mezzi tempi non vi son più; e in questo smarrimento di confini, non vi è dubbio che il freddo acquista terreno. Io ho udito dire a mio padre, che in sua gioventù, a Roma, la mattina di pasqua di resurrezione, ognuno si rivestiva da state. Adesso chi non ha bisogno d’impegnar la camiciuola, vi so dire che si guarda molto bene di non alleggerirsi della minima cosa di quelle ch’ei portava nel cuor dell’inverno”. Ouesto scriveva il Magalotti in data del 1683. L’Italia sarebbe più fredda oramai che la Groenlandia, se da quell’anno a questo, fosse venuta continuamente raffreddandosi a quella proporzione che si raccontava allora.

      Pensieri, Giacomo Leopardi 1798-1837

      • I think the signs of climate change is more visible at high mountain ranges, just talk to the mountian guides in Charmonix and they will tell you very clearly and their estimate when new classes of mountain guides must be trianed at Mount Elbrus…
        Massive climate changes are nothing new on Earth, but today seeing 1/3 of poor humans and animals going under in certain areas because of drought due to emissions by others is not really acceptable for most humans.

    • The planet is actually getting greener due to C02 increases allowing plants to be far more draughts resistant. (Plants loose hundreds of H2O molecules to absorb just one CO2) . There are more forests now than 100 years ago (in part due to hydrocarbons replacing wood as fuel). The Amazon is 86% virgin since European settlement and much of the remainder is green. Habitat destruction is an big issue in some regions and this seems to be caused by population growth. Putting rail and roads in causes problems so air travel avoids that. It’s always good to plant more trees. The extinctions seem to be caused by poaching.. Several White Rhino females live but no males have survived and when the females die they will be extinct. This is due poaching to feed the Asian superstition medicine trade and lack of severe enough penalties.

      • As I understand it, CO over a certain level (of which we are well above) is wasted. So its another rape the environment hack brought to you by Brightbart and the like.

        So not its not getting greener.

        Oddly enough the US is reforesting and edging back to what it was during the original invasions by European powers.

        Sahara has a lot more dessert.

        • We are a long long way from having ‘too much CO2 in the air to be wasted’ for photosynthesis.
          Real Greenhouses boost it up to around 1200 ppm, some might go to 1500 ppm

        • Greenhouses use 1200pppm to accelerate plant growth. Current CO2 levels as measured in Hawaii in May were 411ppm. Almost all plants use a C3 Carbon Dioxide Cycle, the metabolism for which evolved when the earths CO2 levels was much higher, as high as 5000ppm. Hence increased CO2 levels will greatly accelerate plant growth. It is particularly helpful in dry regions as plants need to keep their “pores” open to absorb CO2 and this leads to a huge loss loss of water. Increased CO2 levels dramatically increase drought resistance.
          Freeman Dyson has spent a life time studying the issue.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mmI6DorL_Y&t=6s

          Yes, the planet is getting greener, much greener. Measurable from space. Unfortunately the left have turned “climate science” into a moral panic to push their agendas and destroyed civil discourse. I have no respect for ‘entrepreneurs’ doing the same . Started 14 years ago (2006) When Al Gore, around the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” started telling us that sceptics had to be treated as racists and that we would all be 20ft under water by now (not 1mm or ocean rise) . This is a hysteria. People get involved as a mob but become enlightened only as individuals.

  5. It’s hard to beat burning hydrocarbons for energy density, in substantial part because the other side of the equation is oxygen from the atmosphere. Moreover, in the two main products of combustion, CO2 and H2O, the greater amount by mass comes from atmospheric oxygen.

    But that doesn’t mean that the hydrocarbons need come from a fossil source. If they come from non-fossil sources, burning it does no climate change damage (though there are still issues with e.g. nitrogen compounds). So in a world where we no longer use fossil carbon, jet fuel would need to be derived from organic sources, or manufactured directly from atmospheric CO2.

    • That is why using liquid hydrogen is much better than hydrocarbons. Far fewer pollutants as well as higher energy density.

      The use of hydrogen in turbines and jet engines is similar to the use of conventional jet fuel. Hydrogen use will avoid the problems of sediment and corrosion on turbine blades due to hydrogen’s lack of impurities and its cleanliness. This prolongs life and reduces maintenance. The gas inlet temperatures can be raised beyond the normal temperatures of 800°C and thereby increasing the overall efficiency. Another advan- tage is the low combustion products, water vapor and only small amounts of nitrogen oxides.
      Liquid hydrogen as a fuel has several advantages for commercial subsonic and espe- cially supersonic aircraft. The most important advantage is its high energy content (per mass, 2,8 times higher than for conventional jet fuel) [4]. A liquid hydrogen powered aircraft would therefore have to carry one third of the fuel mass of a con- ventional aircraft. This means smaller engines, higher fuel utilization, reduced noise and more payloads. A subsonic hydrogen fueled passenger aircraft will on average need 16 per cent less fuel than a comparable conventional aircraft to complete the same flight. This advantage is higher in a supersonic aircraft (28 per cent).
      Due to the low density of the fuel a hydrogen-fueled aircraft will generally have a slightly lower lift-to-drag ratio (L/D) and a lower wing loading than conventional air- craft. Hydrogen requires a very large volume. This is the reason why the L/D-ratio is lower despite the fact that liquid hydrogen only requires one third of the mass. It has been found advantageous to carry the fuel (LH2) in the fuselag resulting in larger fuse- lages than for conventional aircraft. Because of the low weight of fuel, the LH2 air- craft is much lighter to take-off and therefore needs less wing area. Liquid hydrogen can also be used as heat sink so that hot parts of the engine can be cooled effectively and efficient.
      Another aspect is that hydrogen is actually a safer fuel for air transportation than presently used jet fuel. This is because of hydrogen’s characteristics and a different construction of hydrogen fueled aircraft [4].
      A commercial airliner (Tupolev 154) with one of the three turbofan engines fueled with liquid hydrogen was demonstrated in April 1988, see Figure 8.1. In June 1988 an American pilot became the first to fly an aircraft fueled only by liquid hydrogen [4].

      • While I believe a hydrogen based economy may be possible for things such as iron ore smelting besides transport it has two big risks. One is that hydrogen leaks through the finest cracks. It will even diffuse through metals. Leaked hydrogen will rise up and attack the ozone layer. Furthermore hydrogen can be lost into space forevermore starting a process of denuding the planet of hydrogen. For this reason I prefer an economy based around synthetic hydrocarbons. It’s very viable. Had we have proceded with the rollout of Gen IV reactors and development of Gen V electricity would now be so cheap we would be synthesising hydrocarbons at about 50/cents litre.

  6. What is the source of hydrogen ? My guess is that producing it from water require more energy than one gets from burning the hydrogen.

    • Electrolysis from water is the ‘poster child’ for hydrogen production.
      The real low cost method is steam reforming using heat and natural gas .
      in US 95% of hydrogen is produced using this method.

    • The cheapest way is using natural gas, the lighter gas the better. Scientists working reslly hard on catalysts to reduce electrical power for hydrolysis. Prgress is made but still long way to go. Huge sea based windmills of +10MW set up to handle hard winds might be a source, you save money on the expensive converters and cables to shore if you can have boats filling up LH2 at each windmill hydrolysis tank.

    • A commercial alkaline electrolyser from someone like Norsk Hydro would be about 70% efficient with electricity being 70% of running costs. These are modest sized units for industries that need a small source of hydrogen for welding, margarine hydrogenation etc and don’t want the hassle of deliveries of bottled hydrogen or running a natural gas reformer. Platinum based PEM electrolysers operate at 85% and the alkaline type operating at say 200C will be 85% by using the heat to help disassociate the water. High temperature electrolysis using ceramic separated electrodes will get to 95%. If heat is available from day a high temperature reactor the electrolyser can be more than 100% efficient by letting heat provide most of the energy.

      Electric cars, buses, trains aren’t going halt emissions. Theyll do virtually nothing. Vast amounts of hydrogen will be needed to replace ammonia fertiliser production, iron smelting, cement calcination, etc. It’s actually insane to even waste any time and effort targeting aviation when it’s 2% of emissions and there are bigger targets far easier to make gains from. These areas must be converted over. Bill Gates thinks renewable energy is hopeless for these purposes.

  7. Harbour Air flies between Vancouver and the cities on Vancouver Island, short flights well within the limitations of the present technology.
    The power to charge the batteries comes from hydroelectric dams.
    If these planes are certified to carry passengers they will definitely keep some carbon out of the atmosphere and the company will save money on fuel and maintenance.
    Just as electric cars have found a niche in urban commuting, electric planes will also find a niche.

    • Damns have their own impact on the environment.

      A few are pretty benign but …….

      Its a mixed problem with CO” being our dinosaur killing meteor but the rest needs to be worked on in parallel, Rain Forrest is one, pollution reduction another (both have compounded affects in the negative and positive if fixed) and the issue of Ocean acidification.

      Being near Arctic we are seeing the warming affect extremity dramatically.

      Batteries cost a huge amount of energy to make and its the total including disposal and are Li Ion batts another non recyclable pollutant?

      The best short term answer is moving to natural gas (yes it pollutants but like refrigerant, some are a lot less killer ozone than others)

      Natural gas also can be turned into a very dense and extremely clean diesel or gasoline like substance. The issue is what energy source you use to do that?

      No easy answers.

      Reduce pollution and make everything more efficient is also a good short term help.

    • There was a story in Narwhal the other day that says that BC imports a lot of power from other sources:
      Despite all the bumph, British Columbians have no way of knowing if the electricity they use comes from a coal-fired plant in Alberta or Wyoming, a nuclear plant in Washington, a gas-fired plant in California or a hydro dam in B.C.
      “A good chunk of the electricity we use is imported,” Mullany says. “In reality we are trading for brown power” — meaning power generated from conventional ‘dirty’ sources such as coal and gas.
      Wyoming, which generates almost 90 per cent of its power from coal, was among the 12 U.S. states that exported power to B.C. last year. (Notably, B.C. did not export any electricity to Wyoming in 2018.)
      Utah, where coal-fired power plants produce 70 per cent of the state’s energy, and Montana, which derives about 55 per cent of its power from coal, also exported power to B.C. last year.
      So did Nebraska, which gets 63 per cent of its power from coal, 15 per cent from nuclear plants, 14 per cent from wind and three per cent from natural gas.
      Coal is responsible for about 23 per cent of the power generated in Arizona, another exporter to B.C., while gas produces about 44 per cent of the electricity in that state.

  8. The problem is people look at cars and electric options and its not close to the same.

    Lets see, our car weight 3000 lbs (1379 kjg)

    I think the load ability is 1000 lbs.

    Fuel is 17 gals (I am not going to do liters!) for a weight of 143 lbs, very small fuel fraction (it will carry 5).

    4-5% in fuel.

    A 737-8 max is 45% fuel.

  9. is the question really well posed? there is a wide difference between 100 miles, 500 miles, 5000 miles flights.

    Would like to hear about the non CO2 effects that still impact climate (NOx, soot, water vapor). these effects are complex so noone talks about it, but their climate impact may exceed that of CO2; reading the IPCC reports. These effects are not addressed by biofuels.

    Hydrogen and ammonia would be a lot better.

  10. There is no sense for using electric driven planes if we are going to use batteries taking in consideration that those batteries have to be charged by electricity .
    If the subject electricity is going to be taken / produced by burning fossil fuel or carbon deposits in the power station, hence there is no use of this approach and we are joking on our selves since we are going to spend more money for less amount of energy
    The only advantage by following this approach is that we are making transfer to our pollution from downtown areas to the countryside areas.
    Hence , e-plane is not feasible / practical / economical at this time unless we are aiming to fill / charge those driven batteries with other clean energy sources such as wind / tidal / wave / hydro sources of energy. however, the cost per unit power here still not practical / economical. Beside we have to think what we have to do we the spent batteries after few years / months.
    Nuclear energy may be worth to be considered in case we succeed to increase safety measures.

    • Wind power is getting really competetive and the technology is progressing pretty quick. Just look at the latest GE Wind Haliade wind power mill that soon will dot coastal areas (hopefully out of sight from the beaches). Using new materials and careful design they should be much more powerful at high wind speeds.

      • Agreed, electrical does not have to come from Fossil.

        But its also a lot more complex than that.

        What power do you use to mfg the windmills? And the chain goes back to digging the base materials out of the ground, yep fossil fuel in most mfg cases and all mining.

        Batteries the same and while Lead Acid can be and indeed are massively recycled in the US (no idea elsewhere) Li Ion? They do wear out and then what? Like Nuke waste, nice and clean till you need to put the left overs (or like coal with the holding ponds for the ash?)

        Me? I do the best I can. Our trash is once every 3 weeks because we don’t buy lots of stuff, our vehicles are fuel efficient for what we are faced with. I recycle as much as we can (AK is not exactly a hot spot for all throw away commodities so its paper, tin, glass and limited plastics)

        We don’t buy bottled water! That alone is the stupidest thing since running the Titanic at full speed in an ice field.

        Avian water, what a crock.

  11. If you look at the case of Harbour Air, the use of electric planes opens up so many opportunities. Services can be set up in places where fuel logistics are difficult. Just some panels or a wind turbine and some batteries and its done!! Electric can be used to make carbon neutral fuels as well, and planes can of course be fueled by bio fuels. With Electric planes the cost of designing planes can fall significantly. Powerplant integration will be much cheaper then optimizing a large bespoke turbofan.

    • That is serious polyanic.

      It would be nice if you would list the spots 30 minutes from Vancouver that getting fuel there is an issue.

      It is in the wilds of AK, and even then its only $6 a gallon or so.

      In the case of a 30 minute flighty a Beaver can make 6 of those in a day without refueling (ie refuel as master base as needed)

      Its a hub and spoke system.

      And they are not going to sit for 4 hours to recharge from a feeble current source.

  12. The carbon footprint from all aviation is about 2% of the world-wide total. So it seems like aviation is among the best uses of fossil fuels, since they are energy-dense, there is not a better alternative at present, and they create only a small addition to the carbon problem in that mode. The earth can easily handle that level of carbon generation.

    If we accept that and then focus on electrification of ground-based processes, we get a better bang for our buck and a better application of the technology. We know that electric cars are approaching the level of consumer acceptance for range, the major car makers have all accepted this. Most other major processes are also possible with electricity (building and industrial heating, etc)

    Then the issue becomes the carbon footprint of electricity generation, as well as storage and transportation. It may be more economical to capture carbon at large plants, where there is economy of scale. A balance of nuclear and renewable is an option, depending on mitigation of risk.

    The opposite approach is full distribution, with many point renewable sources. That can become difficult to predict or manage, but possibly a hybrid approach would be ok.

    There has been progress in HVDC underground cable research. These can transmit very high power levels at long distance with lower losses, and gets away from the above-ground transmission problems as in California. Also far more stable and resistant to shifting loads (non-reactive). DC also permits for easier storage at the bulk level. But they require conversion equipment at the source and at the distribution points for conventional AC power to homes and businesses. Power electronics have made a lot of advances now, inversion & conversion are no longer the challenges they once were. So this enables the so-called smart-grid that’s been envisioned.

    There is some research into hybrid storage, using ultra-capacitors for short term, LiIon for mid-term, and flow batteries for longer term. Also heat or water/gravity reservoirs. Mechanical storage (flywheel) is not as scalable to those levels. Hydrogen is a possible storage technology, but not good efficiency.

    Anyway a lot more options on the ground than in the sky!

    • “The carbon footprint from all aviation is about 2% of the world-wide total.”
      you have to set that in relation to actual transport volume/performance. i.e. carbon footprint per t*km and maybe scoping in transport duration.
      What does “ego” weight 🙂
      Especially the majority of personal business transport is not a necessary activity. Take a (video) phone,
      Same for flying around half the globe and back for a deep sunburn 🙂

      • Rob:

        There is (was?) an HV DC cable run from Wyoming I think to Minnesota.

        Sadly it was because they could put a coal plant in Wyoming and save shipping costs.

        Few others around as well.

        They don’t have to be buried.

        Not a clue where it all is going other than coal is on its last legs thank god.

  13. Note the time scale before flying with revenue pax.

    (Harbour Air and industry and regulator in the Vancouver BC area are experienced with modifying Beaver float planes, for example lengthened floats to increase gross weight.

    HA’s maintenance facility was near the Fraser River north arm, last I looked, and the seaplane terminal is on the river adjacent. Hence the test was done on the river.

    (You can even booze and eat at the terminal, wisely as low altitude flights can be turbulent. 😉 Watch the seaplanes come and go – Beavers and single Otters (many with turbine engine conversion) and Twin Otters plus C180s and such. And keep your eyes open for seaplanes being driven across the dike on contraptions using the front of old FWD cars for motive power.)

    The outfit from Seattle with the funny name I know nothing of.

    I hope it works out for HA which has been well run, they and Kenmore Air of Seattle are the pre-eminent operators of such airplanes.
    But between HA’s staff and a large proportion of its customers – the BC gummint, I am skeptical of justification.)

  14. It will be interesting to find out what Bjorn thinks of efforts like ZeroAvia’s Fuel Cell Electric propulsion. I’m just going to say it outright: My bet is on Val Miftakov! As far as I can tell the math works out quite well for ZeroAvia’s goal. For Bjorn’s research I recommend heading across town to Amazon and ask them why they are ripping the batteries out of their fork lifts and replacing them with hydrogen fuel cells. And maybe talk to researchers at the Hyper Lab at WSU, their partnership with Plug Power might be interesting. Read BNEF’s analysis of when Green Hydrogen will become competitive with fossil fuel produced hydrogen (short answer: 2030), talk to PowerCell of Sweden and NEL of Norway… Just for starters… 🙂 And before anybody says this is something in the distant the future, please keep in mind that it’s extremely likely some of your Christmas presents were transported by Hydrogen Fuel Cells this year, and last year and the year before that too. So it’s here, it’s real, it’s working and it’s reliable enough for aviation. It also meets many weight targets, unlike batteries which meet very few weight targets. Just want to get the myths out of the way and evaluate this tech on the merits only. Let’s see if Bjorn is up for that! 🙂

    • Amazon does what they do because they hve a lot of money (some of it mine!)

      Where do they get the Hydrogen and or how is it cracked out is the key question.

      You can run a fuel cell on a whole bunch of fuels (natural gas among them)

      • 1. Nope! Amazon, Walmart and others are converting forklifts to Hydrogen Fuel Cell because it saves them money. It’s really that simple. More importantly, the company dominating that market, Plug Power, has been doing trials with airport ground handling equipment (in very cold climate) and so far it seems to go quite well. They have mentioned the airports as their next big market after forklifts.

        2. The key question is where will the H2 come from when such an airplane could be certified and in revenue service. The projection is that Green H2 will be competitive on price in that time frame. In his upcoming articles Bjorn will likely write about Synth Fuels. Such fuels will also require Green Hydrogen, and lots of it. BNEF seems to think such increase in scale and necessary automation in manufacturing will enable a very significant cost reduction for electrolyzers, by some estimates one full order of magnitude. Combine that with projected cost reductions for solar and wind, and you have Green H2 that’s competitive with fossil fuel derived H2.

        3. Yes, but why is that relevant to aviation?

  15. Great news on climate, Bjorn.

    You don’t have to take affordable portable energy away from poor people, because humans cannot ruin global climate.

    That’s because the saturation effect of the overlap of the absorption/emission spectra of carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide – the most common greenhouse gas, limits temperature rise to a small amount most of which has already been realized. (The IPCC agrees in their scientific documents, but starts the calculation at the wrong level – zero is the correct value, and theorizes a positive feedback that is not happening.)

    You’ve fallen for Chicken Little scare-mongering from people with a hidden agenda, people like David Suzuki who admitted on Australian TV that he doesn’t even know the names of the temperature data bases he bases his alarmism on. The David Suzuki who took some climate information off of his web site after I publicly challenged it, the nasty person who blamed business for environmental problems in his speech sanctioning the Occupy mob in Vancouver BC. The hypocrite who advocates population control after siring five children who are begatting grand children for him to indoctrinate into committing the crime of mischief in ‘protests’.

    There’s an anti-human mentality about, it is getting desperate. My response to the ‘house on fire’ scream is to pour cold water on the head of the screamer, so they don’t suffer more brain damage from the heat.

    Look into the beliefs of climate activists on other subjects and you’ll find negative presumptions about humans, such as fixed-pie economics and drive-to-the-bottom ethics – in evasion of human created abundance, health care, and collaboration. Indeed, a UN official publicly stated that its goal was income redistribution – that fine principle of the most murderous ideology of the 20th century: Marxism.

    • Climate was warmer and stable in the Medieval Warm Period when Vikings farmed southwest Greenland. Accurate sensors such as weather balloons and satellites, and government tide gauges collated at PSMSL.org, show continued slow warming and attendant sea level rise without significant change of rate since the end of the cool era circa 1750 AD. (Crustal plate movement creates larger effects than the slow rise from warming.)

      CO2 is good for poor people as it increases growth of their food source – plants, and warmer reduces deaths of they and their food converters (animals – just ask Mongolian herders what they think.

      (There’s also a 1.5/2.0 degree threshold of doom bandied about, but even the infamous Phil Jones of the CRU says that was an arbitrary value that people have been burping up for years.)

  16. Note also that Harbour Air is under pressure from politicians and citizens over safety in Victoria BC’s inner harbour (due to congestion and mix of types of conveyances). The mayor is sympathetic to such concerns.
    That’s one of Harbour Air’s key destinations.

    (It’s an official ‘water aerodrome’, with protocols including communications agreed on by users who include water taxi/tour operations, yachts, industrial boats/barges, and the Coho ferry to Port Angeles .)

    As for MagniX, can a company that is unable to make a communicative website do an aviation quality job?

    BTW, one sloppy person in a Leeham thread said the testing was by ‘Harbor Air’ of Seattle. But that was a different airline, IIRC absorbed into Kenmore Air years ago. Observe the difference in spelling, US versus Canada (British).

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