Electric Aircraft; How MIT Researchers Could Electrify Aviation With New Electric Aircraft Engine Design
As a result of the aviation industry’s large impact on the environment, researchers have developed a lightweight and powerful electric aircraft engine design that could hybridize long-range flights and fully electrify short-range ones.
Aviation is Much Dirtier than we Realize
A major part of the modern world is how interconnected everything and everybody is. People can communicate from anywhere worldwide and quickly see each other travelling thousands of miles.
Air transportation has facilitated this interconnectedness. It has become necessary for many living in the modern world; governments, businesses, and international trade all rely on it.
However, as with many technological transportation advancements made in the 20th century, air travel seriously affects the environment. In 2018, global commercial aviation alone was responsible for an estimated 2.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with other ramifications coming from water pollution in creating jet fuel and non-biodegradable waste.
The aviation industry in recent years has come under considerable scrutiny to clean up its act, so to speak. This is why researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have begun work on a new engine for electric aircraft.
Why is this the case?
The truth as to why aviation has been slow to go completely green comes down to the nature of flight itself. The reason why other methods of transportation can facilitate electrification easier is due to weight.
Broadly speaking, electrical motors use copper coils to take on energy from a battery and create an electromagnetic field. A magnet set near the electromagnetic field then spins, which can have a fan or a propellor attached to it. All this is powered by electricity that is stored in heavy batteries.
This basic understanding of electric engines indicates that the larger the coil, magnet and battery are, the heavier the machine is. However, heavy stuff doesn’t go on airplanes due to the nature of flight.
Cars and marine vessels can afford to take on larger, bulkier, and heavier electric propulsion systems due to the fact that they don’t need to worry about leaving the ground. Electric aircraft, on the other hand, are limited by weight.
So this is the challenge that MIT has been tasked with solving. They are currently working on a lightweight, powerful, and compact electric propulsion system that can be solely used for regional short-distance electric aircraft and with jet propulsion engines to effectively hybridize long-range international flights.
As designed, this engine the researchers have created takes up no more space than a checked suitcase and weighs less than an adult passenger. The researchers have tested each component to mitigate risk and planned to assemble this machine to be tested in the fall.
Environmentalism and Flight don’t Need to be Mutually Exclusive
When thinking about the impacts of modern technology and developments in our world, it’s wishful to believe that we can abandon what we know and go back in time. As bad as the impacts of our world are, we cannot close Pandora’s box.
While aviation currently has significant negative impacts on our planet and our environment, it’s truly a marvel of human ingenuity, and there’s no reason why we should settle for less.
Why can’t we have aviation and maintain a healthy relationship with our ecosystems? These two concepts are not mutually exclusive, so developing new systems is important for a better, brighter future for ourselves and our planet.
With the development of electric aircraft engines, we won’t have to pretend airplanes are like shooting stars to fulfill that wish.