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A Dutch startup is challenging the belief that battery-powered aircraft must be small and short-range, proposing to develop a 90-seat, 500-mile-range all-electric airliner. Breaking with traditional design principles, Delft-based Elysian says it has found design space where a large electric aircraft can not only be feasible but also highly efficient.

How Passenger Electric Planes Could Become a Reality Within the Next Decade

The race to decarbonise the aviation industry is heating up, with researchers making strides in developing passenger airplanes that operate on 100% electric power. Elysian’s newly designed electric aircraft, the E9X, represents a significant breakthrough, capable of carrying more passengers and flying farther than previously thought possible. The E9X can hold 90 passengers and fly up to 500 miles without needing to recharge.

Reynard de Vries, co-founder of Elysian and an aerospace engineering researcher at Delft University of Technology, explains that the consensus among industry experts has been that battery-electric air travel would be confined to small planes—aircraft capable of holding a maximum of 20 passengers and traveling less than 200 miles without stopping. The main constraint has been the weight of the electric battery, which commercial batteries currently in production store about 50 times less energy per pound than traditional jet fuel.

To overcome this, Elysian’s design for the E9X includes several key innovations:

  1. Integrated Battery Wings: Batteries are fully integrated across a very large wingspan, distributing weight evenly and enhancing aerodynamics.
  2. Eight Electric Motors: Each motor, providing 1.4 MW of power, is strategically placed across the wing for optimal efficiency.
  3. Low Wing Configuration: Landing gear is housed in dedicated nacelles rather than integrated into the fuselage.
  4. Reserve Energy System: An additional energy system is included for enhanced safety.
  5. Low-Noise Propellers: Optimised for electric motors to minimise noise.
  6. Folding Wingtips: This feature allows for a long wingspan, crucial for aerodynamic efficiency, while still enabling access to standard airport gates. To carry 90 passengers over 800 km with a battery pack of around 360 Wh/kg, the E9X requires a wingspan of 42 meters, surpassing the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Elysian’s innovative approach has revealed substantial technical advantages in creating a larger, clean-sheet design. De Vries notes that if designed optimally, an electric plane can transport more passengers over greater distances.

Impact on Aviation Emissions

Elysian aims to make a significant impact on aviation emissions with its E9X, particularly since flights under 1000 km account for 20% of aviation’s CO2 emissions. Jayant Mukhopadhaya, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), highlights that while small battery-powered planes have already come onto the market, the technology has not yet been applied to larger aircraft. Larger electric planes are necessary to ensure high passenger counts and keep costs competitive with other modes of transport.

Elysian expects these planes to be in service by 2033, providing airlines the opportunity to offer zero-emission flights while maintaining affordable fares for the mass market. Despite the limitations of current battery technology, the utilisation of electric planes could significantly reduce the carbon footprint from flying.

A Vision for the Future

Elysian’s E9X is more than just a technical achievement; it represents a critical step toward sustainable aviation. As the industry continues to explore ways to reduce its environmental impact, innovations like the E9X will be vital in ensuring a greener future for air travel. By targeting short-haul flights with a design that allows for greater efficiency and capacity, Elysian is positioning itself at the forefront of the next revolution in aviation.

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