Electrification on the aviation industry's radar

Electrification on the aviation industry's radar

On a path that seems inevitable, the power of electrified mobility is beginning to take consistent steps in one of the most critical and challenging sectors in terms of decarbonisation: aviation. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), alternative modes of propulsion, such as electrification and the use of hydrogen, can play an important role in a necessary paradigm shift in this sector that is essential to modern societies.

According to the IEA, in 2022 aviation would account for only 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions, but this percentage has grown more in the last decade than the other major sectors in this area, such as rail, road and maritime transport. And it is likely to increase if the projections of a significant increase in air traffic by 2030 are confirmed.

As the data published on the organisation's website shows, the aviation industry is currently "not on track" to meet the internationally imposed carbon neutrality targets by 2050, so technological progress and innovation seem to be the only possible ways of reversing the situation.

The IEA argues that in order to get "on track" - and thus reach the "net-zero" target by the middle of the century - not only will a 50 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint be necessary, but there must also be an increase in operating efficiency of 2 per cent a year until 2030 (between 2010 and 2019 it was 1.8 per cent).

Getting ready for take-off

There are now many examples of the efforts made by various manufacturers to change the paradigm of the industry based on electrification.

One of them is the giant Airbus, which already has several models in its innovation portfolio, with proposals for various types of use on short journeys, such as travelling between large cities; or Eviation, a company included in TIME's list of the 100 most influential companies in the world in 2023, which already has, according to Forbes magazine, purchase intentions worth 4.5 billion USD for its little Alice, including from Air New Zealand and DHL.

However, one of the most consistent proposals and the one that has recently aroused the most interest in the aviation world is that of Swedish start-up Heart Aerospace, responsible for developing the ES-30, an electrified aeroplane model based on a hybrid system, with capacity for 30 passengers, intended for regional flights. The aircraft has four electric motors, which can be powered by lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged in just thirty minutes, or by a jet-fuelled turbogenerator that acts as a range extender.

The range is 200 kilometres in 100% electric mode at full occupancy, a figure that the company estimates could double by 2030 given the expected evolution of battery technology. The maximum range, using the hybrid system, is 800 kilometres with 25 passengers on board.

The model can operate on a zero-emission basis when travelling through airports or on routes of up to 200km. Over longer distances, even taking into account the added weight of the batteries, the manufacturer estimates a reduction of around 50 per cent in CO2 emissions compared to an equivalent model with a traditional propulsion system, and up to 90 per cent if SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) is used.

Other advantages of this concept include reduced noise during take-off and landing manoeuvres due to the use of electric motors, as well as significantly lower operating and maintenance costs.

The new model will come in service in 2028. The manufacturer recently announced that it already has a total of 250 confirmed orders for the ES-30 from major international airlines, including Air Canada and United Airlines, and purchase intentions for around 200 more units.

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