While a lot of attention has been focused on the ongoing round-the-world trip of the solar powered aircraft, Solar Impulse, another emissions-free aircraft has been shown off this week at the Paris Air Show. This aircraft, however, relies on electric batteries, rather than solar panels.
Airbus’ new prototype, the E-Fan demonstrator, is a world’s first in propulsion technology, bringing electric power to air travel. While it is unlikely that full-size commercial aircraft will be able to be completely battery-powered in the near future, Airbus have big hopes for the E-Fan concept. Unveiled in April 2014, where the E-Fan demonstrator made its first public flight, it is hoped that the E-Fan 2.0 will make its maiden flight towards the end of 2017. There are even plans for a larger version of the aircraft, the E-Fan 4.0, to be developed in 2019. More importantly, though, is that the E-Fan concept is seen as the first significant step on the road towards electric and hybrid propulsion of aircraft, which Airbus sees as the future of aviation technology.
So how does the E-Fan work and why is it important? Well, firstly, the aircraft produces no CO2 emissions whatsoever and will be almost silent in-flight. It is powered by 120 lithium-ion polymer batteries, which run the twin 30kw engines. It is also made from super-lightweight composite materials, allowing the engines to cope with the weight of the aircraft. And with a maximum speed of around 220km/h, the E-Fan technology is certainly an impressive feat.
For now, the plan is for the E-Fan to be used for training at flight schools, which could produce impressive carbon savings, but for the full scale of the benefits to be revealed, we’ll need to wait until 2019 to get a better idea.