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E-mobility conquers the skies

The aim: drastically reduce emissions while strengthening Europe’s competitive edge

The aerospace industry has always aimed high. Our long-term goal: almost zero-emission aviation through hydrogen, electric and hybrid-electric flight technology. The good news: Europe is currently leading in the development of electric aircraft. And yet, this remains our biggest industrial challenge.

Opportunities on the horizon

The aviation industry has set an ambitious goal of reducing its emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 compared to the year 2005. This target cannot be achieved through conventional technologies alone. Given recent technological breakthroughs, e-mobility is expected to play an important role in reducing both noise and emissions. Hybrid-electric planes are highly complex and need new aircraft systems. Whereas the potential of e-mobility is beyond doubt, existing technologies are not yet suitable for the electrification of passenger aircraft. A short-haul plane with less than 100 seats needs up to 10 megawatts of thrust at take-off, the equivalent of 14,000 hp. This is simply beyond the capability of current batteries.

First electric success stories

The pathway is therefore clear: start small and gradually increase aircraft size. Airbus’s all-electric demonstrator aircraft E-Fan made its first public flight in April 2014 – and just over a year later became the first all-electric airplane to cross the English Channel on its own power. In a second step, the E-Fan was transformed into an updated “Plus” version with a hybrid configuration for longer flight endurance. The E-Fan Plus – which debuted in the summer of 2016 – incorporates an internal combustion engine as a range extender in addition to the aircraft’s on-board lithium-ion batteries.

Hydrogen can play an important role in further reducing emissions. In the future, the auxiliary power unit of an airplane (AUP) could potentially be run by hydrogen instead of kerosene. The AUP serves as an additional energy source normally used to start one of the main engines on an airliner or business jet. Airbus has recently joined the Global Hydrogen Coalition (read more) to strengthen the technology and to further avert CO2 emissions.

From two to 100 seats

In 2017, Airbus launched the E-Fan X project. The E-Fan X hybrid-electric aircraft demonstrator is expected to take its first flight in 2021 following a comprehensive ground test campaign, provisionally on a BAe 146 flying testbed. In the demonstrator, one of the four gas turbine engines will be replaced by a two-megawatt electric motor. In collaboration with our partner Rolls-Royce, we aim to prove the technical viability of hybrid-electric propulsion systems for helicopters, aircraft and drones. The goal is to have a 100-seater commercial aircraft equipped with a hybrid-electric propulsion system by the 2030s timeframe. 

E-Fan X

Airbus and Rolls-Royce develop the hybrid-electric E-Fan X

Political support indispensable

Airbus and its partners pursue a future for aviation with fewer emissions, lower noise levels and higher operating efficiency. To achieve these ecological and economic objectives, and for Europe to maintain its technological leadership in this strategic area, political support for e-mobility is indispensable. Whilst e-mobility for cars is already being promoted at the national level in many European countries, support for the aerospace industry needs to be significantly increased.

Graphics Challenges Of Electric Flights EN

While 50 kilowatt of battery power are needed to start a car, 10.000 kilowatt are necessary to start a plane.



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E-mobility conquers the skies

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