May 1, 2012
A new aircraft could run entirely on electricity, Popular Science reports.
Researchers at Volta Volare have worked over the past few years to use the latest in engineering research as they sought to create an airplane that could operate using only electricity. Achieving such would have far-reaching repercussions within the aviation sector, as volatile fuel prices are the single most significant contributor to high ticket prices, and the company's newest model could help usher in a new era in flight, the firm's executives contend.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Volta Volare is a leader in its efforts to use novel engineering tools to help make electric and hybrid flight a reality. Paul Peterson, the company's chief executive, said recently that advances in electric vehicle batteries and motors have bolstered the firm's research initiatives. Peterson reckons that electric planes could become as ubiquitous as conventional ones, although the emergent field faces many hurdles on its quest.
This spring, Volta Volare will begin testing an electric aircraft prototype, a G4 that seats four passengers, according to the news provider. Company engineers modeled the plane in many ways on electric vehicle designs, Peterson noted. The G4's hybrid powertrain, for instance, is similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt, and is equipped with batteries and backup gasoline engine components.
The potential payoff for the company is massive, especially as jet fuel prices remain at record highs. Completing a 200-mile journey with an electric aircraft that is equipped with a single engine would cost roughly one-fourth of the amount the same trip would take with a plane that operates using fossil fuels. What's more, electric planes would require less maintenance than their gas-powered counterparts because their motors have only one moving part, Peterson noted.
Electric planes would also reduce aircraft emissions and would produce a quantifiable drop in carbon emissions released by the aviation sector each year, scientists note. While such aircraft are promising, safety experts have long questioned whether they are viable. An electric plane running out of battery power is far more serious than if the same scenario occurs in an electric vehicle.
Still, Peterson said engineers have worked to address many of the safety and structural issues that have long thwarted the development of electric aircraft. Volta Volare's electric plane prototype features a canard, which is a short cross-wing installed near the aircraft's nose and propeller. The canard helps propel the plane through the air, according to PopSci.
Additionally, the canard served as yet another area where engineers could install battery packs. The plane's propellers are also made from a carbon-composite material that is significantly lighter than the materials used in conventional aircraft. Using carbon-composite in the design of the electric plane also ensured the plane was secure enough to contend with the rigors of flight.
The plane is also outfitted with a 900-pound lithium-polymer battery system, according to the company. There are 236 individual cells that make up the battery pack. Each of the batteries is approximately equivalent to the same of a notebook computer, and the pack as a whole is capable of generating 600 horsepower at peak output. Throughout the course of a flight, it roughly has an output of 400 horsepower, Peterson affirmed.