The UK carrier has formed a partnership with US firm Wright Electric, which is developing a battery-propelled aircraft for flights under two hours.

EasyJet said the move would enable battery-powered aircraft to travel short-haul routes such as London to Paris and Amsterdam, and Edinburgh to Bristol. Wright Electric is aiming for an aircraft range of 335 miles, which would cover the journeys of about a fifth of passengers flown by easyJet.

Carolyn McCall, easyJet’s chief executive, said the aerospace industry would follow the lead of the automotive industry in developing electric engines that would cut emissions and noise.

“For the first time in my career I can envisage a future without jet fuel and we are excited to be part of it,” she said. “It is now more a matter of when, not if, a short-haul electric plane will fly.”

The airline said it was the next step in making the airline less harmful for the environment, after cutting carbon emissions per passenger kilometre by 31% between 2000 and 2016.

Wright Electric claims that electric planes will be 50% quieter and 10% cheaper for airlines to buy and operate, with the cost saving potentially passed on to passengers.

The US firm said its goal was for every short flight to be electric within 20 years. It has already built a two-seater prototype and is working towards a fully electric plane within a decade. The next step is to scale-up the technology to a 10-seater aircraft, and eventually to build a single aisle, short haul commercial plane, with the capacity to carry at least 120 passengers.

Wright Electric was founded in 2016 by a team of aerospace engineers, powertrain experts, and battery chemists, with a background in organisations including Nasa, Boeing, and Cessna.

Jeffrey Engler, chief executive and founder of Wright Electric, said the startup firm’s partnership with easyJetwas “a powerful validation” of its work. “Their insights have been invaluable as we look to commercialise our electric aircraft for the large and growing short-haul flight markets,” he added.

EasyJet’s chief commercial officer, Peter Duffy, said the partnership would help Wright Electric understand what was required to make the planes commercially successful, looking at factors such as maintenance and revenue management.

“You’re seeing cities and countries starting to talk about banning diesel combustion engines. That would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Duffy said. “As technology moves on, attitudes shift, ambitions change and you see opportunities you didn’t see. This is genuinely exciting.”

Angela Monaghan

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

Comments (3)

  1. David Dundas says:

    Batteries will limit the range of electric planes as already demonstrated with hydrogen powered drones that have twice the range of battery only. NASA is underwriting a project by Grainger College of Engineering in the US to develop a cryogenic hydrogen powered plane (CHEETA) using fuel cells to convert the hydrogen into electric power. Responding to Keiron’s valid comment: by the time this aircraft is commercially viable, the hydrogen will be produced by clean electricity, ultimately by clean nuclear fusion power from 2050 onwards.

  2. Keiron Shatwell says:

    @David – my problem with Hydrogen is many fold but the main problems are 1) it is extremely explosive and leaks from absolutely everything (pipes, tanks, pressure vessels) and 2) it takes twice as much energy (electricity) to create the Hydrogen than you get back from burning it.

    Then there is the problem that when you burn Hydrogen you get a very powerful Greenhouse Gas – Water Vapour – in the exhaust (this is also the case in fuel cells). Water Vapour is the most effective GHG due to the volume of it in the atmosphere so is it wise to replace one GHG with another?

    Finally, everyone says "we can produce Hydrogen from the spare electricity" but where is that spare capacity? Right now the UK demand is 41.6GW of which 47.2% is being supplied by Gas and Coal, 16.5% by Nuclear and 26% by Wind (the remainder being Biomass, Hydro and Interconnectors). If we lose the Gas and Coal what takes over? And if heating becomes more and more electric powered demand will rise, potentially drastically, so where will the spare capacity to crack Hydrogen be? Even if the Sci Fi dream of Fusion happens, which has been promised since I was a little boy (and I’m now nearly 50!)

  3. David Dundas says:

    Keiron: As hydrogen is the lightest gas, any leak will disperse so fast in air that it can never make an explosive mixture, unlike petrol that can accumulate on the ground in puddles that become explosive. Electrolysis to make hydrogen is not efficient, but neither is a jet or internl combustion engine (around 32%). A hydrogen powered aircraft will be powered by electric motors that are much more efficient (around 80%), rather than burning hydrogen in a jet engine.

    You are absolutely right about where will the zero carbon electricity come from? but this is the same problem for electric vehicles. The point is, that the world faces a crisis in clean electricity generation that very few people recognise. Here in the UK in 2018 we released 2,234 TWh of energy from all sources, but only 351.2 TWh was to generate electricity and only 33% of that was from wind, solar, hydro, tidal etc. ie just 116 TWh of clean electricity. Assuming that the increase in demand for energy (up 30% by 2030) is balanced by the same reduction in losses by better insulation and better efficiency, then as all energy must be delivered as clean electricity by 2050, we have to increase clean electricity generation from 116 TWh to 2,234 TWh ie by 19 times. Unfortunately there’s only one other clean electricity generation and that’s nuclear. Hinkley Point C will generate 28 TWh a year running at maximum output all year 24/7, so we will need 67 more nuclear power stations like that, to all be running by 2050. The present Hinkley Point C will cost 20.3 billion if there are no cost over-runs, that comes to a total of 1.36 trillion. Yes we do have a problem about where will the zero carbon electricity come from?

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