(MENAFN- Gulf Times) British aero engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce says it has developed the 'world's fastest all-electric aircraft,' according to a statement from the company. The aircraft known as the 'Spirit of Innovation' attained a maximum speed of 387.4mph (623km/h) in flight, which Rolls-Royce said it believed makes it 'the world's fastest all-electric vehicle.'
Rolls-Royce said in a press statement the Spirit of Innovation set three world records in total, including reaching 345.4 mph over 1.86 miles on 16 November. The company also said the vehicle achieved the fastest time to ascend 3000 metres by one minute, with a time of 202 seconds. The aircraft flew 300mph over 9.32 miles in Wiltshire at the UK Ministry of Defence's military aircraft testing site, which is 182mph quicker than the previous record, the statement said. The figures have been presented to the sport's global governing body Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FIA) for verification. The aircraft itself uses the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever constructed in aerospace, according to Rolls-Royce.
Test pilot and Rolls-Royce director of flight operations Phil O'Dell, who accomplished the top speed, said 'this is the highlight of my career and is an incredible achievement for the whole team.' 'Staking the claim for the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce,' said the company's CEO Warren East.
'Following the world's focus on the need for action at COP26, this is another milestone that will help make 'jet zero' a reality and supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land and sea' East added.
Decarbonisation is one of the biggest challenges faced by aviation, and the pathway to net-zero emissions will take innovation, collaboration, and legislation.
For electric flying – the wider goal of the sector – a key challenge in building electric aircraft involves how much energy can be stored in each amount of weight of the on-board energy source. Although the best batteries store about 40 times less energy per unit of weight than jet fuel, a greater share of their energy is available to drive motion.
Rolls Royce is just one of the many aerospace companies innovating towards a future of electric flying – and it's not just the big aviation players working in this field. In Germany, Lilium – a start-up making electric jets that can take off and land vertically, has already announced plans to sell 220 of its vehicles for up to $1bn to Brazilian airliner Azul. The two firms plan to build an eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft network across Brazil between now and 2025.“The aircraft we're planning to launch will do 175 miles an hour,” Alex Asseily, Lilium's chief strategy officer, told media.“The range will be 155 miles.”
Lilium's latest aircraft is a five-seater model but the one that goes into serial production and gets sold to Azul will be a seven-seater model, Asseily said, adding that the production line is 50% complete. Each Lilium jet will cost Azul roughly $4.5mn.
John Rodgerson, CEO of Azul, said such an aircraft is a good fit for his airline with a significant domestic network, adding the carrier will“create the market and demand for the Lilium jet network in Brazil.”
Investors have backed Lilium, which competes with the likes of Airbus and BlackFly, with $300mn so far. However, the company is planning to raise an additional $830mn that will give it a post-money valuation of around $3.3bn. The money is being raised through a SPAC with QellSPAC, and will be chaired by former Airbus CEO Thomas Enders.
While it's certainly a 'race' to electric, it's anything but fast. For now, the industry remains reliant on jet fuel. Jet fuel contains about 14 times more usable energy than a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery. This makes batteries very heavy for aviation – and that's an issue the sector is still grappling with today. When you combine this with the fact that aviation is always aggressively trying to offload extra weight onboard (whether it's through the installation of light-weight-slimline seats, fewer onboard bathrooms, the removal of onboard literature, etc) you begin to realise just how much of a challenge this is.
The use of sustainable aviation fuel will help meet the regulatory standards on emission and reduce carbon emission due to the rising air traffic. The effective application of low carbon technologies, such as electric and hydrogen propulsion are unlikely to be in widespread use until 2040 or later, meaning Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) provides one of the only viable ways to reduce aviation emissions significantly in the short to medium-term.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is the main term used by the aviation industry to describe“non-conventional” aviation fuels that are produced from sustainable feedstocks.
There are currently five internationally approved processes through which SAFs can be produced. Each of these pathways has its benefits, such as the availability of feedstock, cost of the feedstock, carbon reduction or cost of processing. Some may be more suitable than others in certain areas of the world. But all of them have the potential to help the aviation sector reduce its carbon footprint significantly, assuming all sustainability criteria are met.
One type of SAF, for example, uses waste fat and oils. It is the most commercially available type of SAF today – used in about 95% of the 300,000 SAF powered flights that have flown since 2016.
It is a“drop in” solution – currently blended with conventional fuels at various percentages, can use the same supply infrastructure, and does not require engine or aircraft modifications to work. First used by the industry in 2008, SAF has powered over 250,000 flights around the world. However, volumes currently remain low, with SAF accounting for less than 0.1% of the aviation fuel market. If used neat, SAF has the potential to reduce life-cycle emissions by up to 80%. It works just like conventional jet fuel, in that it combusts inside an engine, hence producing emissions. It is 'sustainable' because it emits less CO2 over its lifecycle.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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