Will electric planes have a future?

Will we be flying electric soon?

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Kallo, you are researching the topic of electric flying at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). When could we travel in electric planes?

Josef Kallo: That could take another 20 years or so. Electric flying is particularly worthwhile in the regional area, i.e. for distances between 250 and a maximum of 2000 kilometers, since electricity-powered aircraft currently only reach around 60 percent of the range of a kerosene-powered aircraft.

We are already in the process of building prototypes and will have to do more developments and certifications over the next ten to fifteen years. Electric flying is technologically feasible, even if the challenges are still great. Whether it will be implemented is primarily a question of cost.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Small, light and almost emission-free

    Aircraft fueled with electricity from renewable energy sources fly CO2-free. Other environmentally harmful emissions such as nitrogen oxides and fine dust would also be eliminated. All in all, electric aircraft have to be smaller, lighter and more efficient than kerosene-powered aircraft - such as the Alpha Electro from the Slovenian start-up Pipistrel, which has already taken to the skies.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Electric bus

    Electrically powered aircraft are to be used mainly in regional traffic. The Israeli start-up Eviation wants to revolutionize commuting with its 9-seater. The prototype Alice, which is due to make its first test flight in 2019, is expected to achieve speeds of up to 1000 km / h.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Up and away

    The flying taxi from the German company Lilium has already made its maiden flight. The jet took off for the first time in April 2017 - vertically. The fully electric 5-seater has a range of 300 km and takes an hour from London to Paris. The air taxis should at some point be able to be ordered via app and should not cost much more than a normal taxi ride.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Classic and electric mixed

    Some aircraft manufacturers, on the other hand, rely more on hybrids. Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are jointly developing this prototype of a commercial aircraft. The so-called e-Fan X is operated with three gas turbines and an electric motor. At some point another gas turbine will be replaced by an electric motor. The first prototype is scheduled to make its first round in 2020.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Environmentally friendly on vacation

    The low-cost airline Easyjet also wants to enable climate-friendly flying. In September 2017, the British airline announced a cooperation with the American start-up Wright Electric. The aim is to build completely electrically powered planes for up to 150 passengers. It is not known when the first prototype will be ready.

  • Environmentally friendly flying? This is what electric planes of the future could look like

    Electric future

    According to experts, we could travel with the first electric aircraft in 20 years. Previous prototypes have a range of 250 to 1000 km. But technology is fast moving - good news for eco-conscious travel enthusiasts.

    Author: Katharina Wecker

How exactly could electric aircraft be used in regional transport?

It is conceivable to set up small hubs for "air buses" with ten to twelve seats, perhaps with 40 seats. Since electric aircraft need relatively short runways and are very quiet, they could be built near cities. Then it would be conceivable that you can book a trip with an app and decide whether you want to take the train or fly by air bus, or choose a combination of both.

In Germany you could use it to connect rural areas where local public transport is not well developed. In Baden-Württemberg, for example, it takes three hours to get from Aalen to Freiburg by train, including changing trains. You would be there in 45 minutes by plane.

More on this: The planes of tomorrow

Will we then fly with electric planes instead of taking the train?

Electric planes could mainly be used where there are still no good connections. They then serve as a quick extension of the infrastructure without us having to build train routes, highways, etc. That would be a concept for countries like China or India, for example, where one could relatively easily connect large areas with one another.

In addition, there will be more and more megacities where the question arises whether you can still act flexibly enough with buses and trains. Electrically powered aircraft would be particularly good at connecting people and places without exacerbating urban environmental problems.

For Josef Kallo, the regional transport of the future will take place in the air

How environmentally friendly would electric flying be? In today's air traffic, CO2 is responsible for only around half of all climate-damaging emissions. Nitrogen oxides, contrails, water vapor and fine dust have an additional warming effect.

Overall, electric aircraft would be 10% more efficient than conventional aircraft. The energy source, i.e. a battery with a fuel cell or a gas turbine with a generator, can be spatially separated from the electric motor.

This enables us to use the "drive actuator" [the motor that converts electricity into mechanical energy] can be placed flexibly, which increases the efficiency of the overall system. In other words, the energy that we have to use to fly would be less, and so would the emissions.

In addition, when using the fuel cell, no CO2, no benzene, no particles, no nitrogen oxides, etc. are generated. That would actually be more environmentally friendly in one fell swoop. Regarding contrails, we cannot make a statement at the moment. We still have to do more experiments.

In order for electric flying to be really environmentally friendly, the aircraft should not be "refueled" with electricity from coal-fired power stations or other fossil fuels. Would we have enough renewable energies available to fly with it?

In Germany, the market regulates that only as much energy is produced as is actually needed. One would first have to create capacities for the provision of energy in order to be able to implement electrical air traffic concepts.

Technically it would be possible. We see that there are places in Italy, Spain and the southwest of the USA where the yield from solar and wind is so good that capacities for electric flying - for example in the form of hydrogen electrolysis - could be made available there.

Aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus are also researching electric flight. Is there an exchange between science and business?

It is very welcome to aircraft OEMs [The industrial manufacturer of original components for aircraft] see what happens in this direction. From a technological point of view, we can say that if we have done our homework in two to three years, then we could do something together, maybe build a prototype.

Josef Kallo conducts research at the Institute for Technical Thermodynamics of the German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart. Since 2006 he has headed the "Electrochemical Systems" department, which deals with fuel cells and batteries.

  • Why buy a car?

    Welcome to the traffic jam! Only exhaust gases can develop freely here

    The Germans are attached to their traffic structures. No wonder. Car inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Nicolaus August Otto, co-inventors of the internal combustion engine, come from Germany. The fleet of Daimler, BMW, Audi, VW and Porsche has achieved world fame. The highway was first built here. Transport researchers promise, however, that the transport systems of the future will be greener and more flexible.

  • Why buy a car?

    The city of tomorrow

    Since 2008, more people around the world have been living in cities than in rural areas - and the trend is rising. Urban zones will be CO2-neutral, climate-adapted, digitized and automated, say researchers from the Fraunhofer Morgenstadt initiative. Means of transport are used more efficiently through networking. Sharing will catch on. Mobility becomes a service. Nobody needs their own car anymore.

  • Why buy a car?

    Smart - age of digitization

    The internet makes global networking possible. Whole cities and also transport systems are coordinated with one another. For road traffic this means: traffic lights switch automatically depending on the traffic situation. Sensors transmit data and ensure that vehicles do not cause any damage. In this way, accidents can be avoided and service, maintenance, insurance, parking meters and tickets are superfluous.

  • Why buy a car?

    Safe and traditional before digital and autonomous

    Will Amazon, Google and Co. overtake the established car manufacturers and will drivers soon take their places in the back seat? - A question that interests everyone. However, autonomous driving has recently suffered a setback. The tests of the US company Uber were stopped after a robotic car ran over a woman at night.

  • Why buy a car?

    What to do with the anger

    The streets are clogged, the traffic lights are red, the man behind is a shovel and there is little time left to meet the deadline. That stresses you. Honking, harassing, shouting, abusing others? Aggression and provocations could be a thing of the past if autonomous driving takes hold. Then the passengers can sit back and laugh at the old days. Very relaxed.

  • Why buy a car?

    No progress without a smartphone

    Use the app to order a taxi or organize another means of transport. The transport is already more and more often controlled publicly and collectively and via the Internet. The service is paid for - of course - via smartphone.

  • Why buy a car?

    Discontinued Model

    The future of the car is electric. But when is it ready? The corporations are constantly announcing investments in the billions. However, a lack of charging options, short ranges and high costs put customers off. There is also a need for alternatives to e-cars: hybrids that run on electricity or fuel, and variants that run on hydrogen or synthetic fuel.

  • Why buy a car?

    Yellow turns green

    Delivering letters in a climate-friendly way is what postal workers do on foot and by bike. But to deliver parcels, they need vehicles. The Deutsche Post (DHL) and the TU Aachen invented some themselves: The CO2-free StreetScooters roll with electricity from regenerative energy. Not producing greenhouse gases with electric drives is one of the challenges of the future.

  • Why buy a car?

    Egg-laying woolly milk sow

    It's similar to the Smart, but it's a pedelec on four wheels. The Podride is 1.80 meters long, has a closed driver's cab with a comfortable seat, drives on snow and ice, masters steep slopes and jerky slopes, offers storage space and heating. The driver steers the vehicle using two levers next to the seat and steps on the pedals to drive the rear axle and the electric motor.

  • Why buy a car?

    Autonomous flying

    Lots of bright minds - one idea. Some companies have their sights on the flying car, including the transportation service provider Uber and the aviation group Airbus. This rocket-like prototype should be able to beam a passenger 9,150 meters high and reach a speed of 480 kilometers per hour. The battery change is similar to the pit stop in Formula I: land briefly and go on.

  • Why buy a car?

    E-mobile in the air

    The Ce-Liner is powered by two electric engines at the stern. The C-shaped wings are aerodynamically very efficient. The Bauhaus Luftfahrt association has developed an airport and aircraft concept. In the future, inner-city airports will be arranged on several levels to save space. The machines take off on the top level, and the battery-operated Ce liners are parked below.

  • Why buy a car?

    Car-free with panoramic views of the summit

    The Swiss mountain village of Stoos has 150 inhabitants and more than 2000 beds. In just four minutes, this futuristic panoramic train brings living beings and material up the mountain, overcoming 1,740 meters and a difference in altitude of 744 meters. With an incline of up to 1110 per thousand, it is the steepest funicular in the world. Can the Himalayas be explored in a similar way?

  • Why buy a car?

    The mobility revolution is in full swing

    The world without your own car? Can anyone imagine that? Up to now, the car has symbolized prosperity and independence. But the signs of the future point to smart mobility. In just a few years, the car will only be a means of getting around for several users and will be part of a mix of mobility offers - predict the transport pioneers.

    Author: Karin Jäger