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Preparing for the Next Generation of Electric Aircraft

June 2, 2023
Electrification adoption rates climb throughout aerospace industry in response to emissions concerns, but challenges still exist.

Most industry experts agree that the future of all transportation is more electric. Advancements in electric and autonomous vehicles have sparked renewed enthusiasm for the integration of hydrogen power and battery power in aviation. Startups from Silicon Valley and elsewhere are partnering with key players from aerospace and transportation to make electric aircraft more viable, according to aerodefensetech.com. Without a doubt, clean technology is the biggest trend in aerospace globally, allowing the world to reduce carbon emissions as we jet across the globe.

The drive behind the electric movement in aviation, not surprisingly, is based on increased concerns about environmental impact. Although kerosene-burning aircraft engines are greener today–because they burn less fuel than they used to, there are a lot more aircraft in the skies, so the contribution to air pollution is still significant. And the number of aircraft is only expected to increase as the aerospace industry is growing exponentially. In fact, by 2028 it is predicted that upwards of 38,000 aircraft will be in service, a vast increase from the 26,000 being used today (based on data reported in equipment-news.com).

As a result, aviation emissions have doubled since the mid-1980s, accounting for 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. That number could triple by 2050, according to greenbiz.com.

Such an alarming statistic is one reason why the global market for electric aircraft is projected to skyrocket, potentially reaching $27.7 billion by 2030, according to market research company MarketsandMarkets. Experts say the growth in this market stems largely from urban mobility aircraft deployment (see more on this topic later in the article) and the increasing use of electric aircraft for light cargo and other activities.

Although electrification has become a global trend, the EU is driving the greatest interest in this area with a goal of being net neutral (not net zero) by 2040. Europe already is estimated to account for the largest share of the aircraft electrification market in 2022 with particularly high demand from countries such as France, Germany, UK, and Switzerland, according to marketsandmarkets.com. Government bodies such as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Defense Agency (EDA), the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the European Air Transport Command play a crucial role in ensuring transportation safety and addressing various issues related to air transport, such as carbon emissions and noise pollution, among others.

The elimination of fossil fuel-burning engines is made possible by the introduction of electric propulsion motors powered by all-electric powered propulsion. Current technologies have made it possible to electrify small aircraft. But electrifying larger aircraft requires a different approach since battery power densities do not exist today to make it feasible for large aircraft to be powered solely by batteries. In addition, there are ongoing challenges relative to the weight of batteries, as well as heat management issues with the size of batteries necessary to power larger aircraft.

This whitepaper is designed to summarize existing technologies that are making electric aircraft more viable, as well as address some of the remaining engineering challenges that preclude the industry from going completely electric.