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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

From Hybrid Cars To Hybrid Airplanes?

Positive change in the world depends on many steps forward.  Without knowing it at times, we take those steps in sync though from very different places.

Technology feeds its own engines.  This story, for example, illustrates hybrid improvements arising in the car industry (and we can attest to the amazing efficiency of hybrid cars having driven one before the Leaf, all electric) now showing up in aerospace.  The airline industry, we know, we'll invent their own improvements and those will filter back into autos, trains, mass transit.  A very nice, complimentary feeder system.

As always we hope you will fully investigate the many benefits of hybrid cars and electrics (yes, we know the price of fuel in the US right now has plummeted, but don't make long-term buying decisions on short-term market changes, and think long-term about the impact you make on the environment) as you look to buy or lease new vehicles.  Be part of the solution not the problem.

From Hybrid Cars To Hybrid Airplanes? 'Green' Aircraft Successfully Tested In The UK

After hybrid cars, has the time come for hybrid aircrafts? It’s still to early to tell, but researchers of Cambridge University, working in association with Boeing Boeing, have just announced a first important step in this direction. On Tuesday, in Sywell Aerodrome, near Northampton, they ran a series of test flights using an aircraft powered by a parallel hybrid-electric propulsion system.

The aircraft, a modified, commercially-available, lightweight single-seater, uses a combination of a 4-stroke piston engine and an electric motor, which could also turn into a power generator. The hybrid power system is based on a Honda engine; the batteries, a set of 16 large lithium-polymer cells, are located in special compartments built into the wings.

The petrol engine and the electric motor combined fuel the plane during take-off and climb, when maximum power is required. Then, once cruising height is reached, the electric motor can be switched into generator mode to recharge the batteries while in flight, or used in motor assist mode to minimise consumption. Nothing new, to be sure: this same principle is at work in hybrid cars. What has been holding back its implementation in aircrafts until now, is battery technology.

“Until recently, they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity. But with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries, similar to what you’d find in a laptop computer, hybrid aircraft – albeit at a small scale – are now starting to become viable,” Dr Paul Robertson of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, said in a statement.

The demonstrator aircraft uses up to 30% less fuel than a comparable plane with a petrol-only engine and, in Northampton, after making a series of test hops along the runway, flew for several minutes at a height of over 1,500 feet.

But don’t dream of boarding a “greener” commercial jetliner anytime soon; as researchers made clear, there’s still a lot of work to do before this becomes possible – and much more battery capacity is needed. For now, if all the engines and all the fuel in a standard airliner were to be replaced by batteries, it would have a total flying time of around ten minutes.

hybrid airplane
Photo Credits: University of Cambridge

“We’re looking decades away before an electric airliner will be a viable possibility,” Robertson said.
As things stand, the demonstrator will be used by reseachers used mainly as a test-bed, to gather data and experiment with different configurations.

In the future, perhaps, hybrid technology could be initially applied to small, personal aircrafts, a means of transportation that could become increasingly common, as roads become too congested and commuters try to find easier ways to reach their destinations.

More research will be needed, however, to address the complex issue of aviation emissions, which right now ammount to roughly 2% of man-made carbon emissions. The situation is getting worse, and the faster a solution is provided, the better. According to ICAO’s (International Civil Aviation Organization) estimates, by 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005. By 2050 they could triple, if unchecked.

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