New Hybrid Plane Will Add Second Electric Engine as Battery Costs Drop

©. Airbus

Electrification isn't all-or-nothing. A new Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens partnership aims to start with one engine.

Until recently, the idea of fully electric commercial flight wasn't even on my radar. But as battery costs come down dramatically, this prospect is moving from (ahem) pie-in-the-sky to a very real possibility within the next decade or so.

The trouble is, we need to start cutting carbon now.

Luckily, electrification isn't always an all-or-nothing proposition, especially in a plane with several engines. A new partnership from Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens appears to take advantage of this fact. Dubbed the E-Fan X, this will be a demonstration hybrid aircraft which, initially, will have one of four gas turbine engines replaced by a two megawatt electric motor. But as the system matures, is demonstrated to be safe and, presumably, as battery costs come down, provisions will be made toward replacing a second turbine with another 2MW motor.

Electrek described the move as, likely, the "biggest electrification effort to date." And while the press release focuses on the hybrid aspect, one has to wonder if the ultimate goal is all four turbines being replaced by motors. Here's how Paul Eremenko, Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer, described the project:

“The E-Fan X is an important next step in our goal of making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future. The lessons we learned from a long history of electric flight demonstrators, starting with the Cri-Cri, including the e-Genius, E-Star, and culminating most recently with the E-Fan 1.2, as well as the fruits of the E-Aircraft Systems House collaboration with Siemens, will pave the way to a hybrid single-aisle commercial aircraft that is safe, efficient, and cost-effective. We see hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology for the future of aviation.”

A big part of the motivation for projects like this is, apparently, the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation, which includes a reduction of CO2 by 75%, reduction of NOx by 90% and noise reduction by 65%. The happy side effect, presumably, will be cleaner air, lower dependence on fossil fuels, and cheaper flights too.

But who needs Big Government?