While the morning session of the World
Electric Aircraft Symposium primarily addressed "big picture"
subjects and often-inspirational speakers, the afternoon program's
presenters-while no less inspirational-concentrated more on technical
issues and details.
Chet Fuller of GE Aviation showed that
electrification of aircraft can go beyond the powering of relatively
small general aviation aircraft: many of the systems aboard large
commercial jets can be electrified as well, removing their loads from
the powerplants and thus increasing overall efficiency.
Additionally, replacement of complex and
sometimes maintenance-intensive systems such as pneumatics and
hydraulics can improve overall safety and reliability.
Fuller noted that Boeing's new 787,
"the first all-electric airliner," will have dual generators
providing a total power of 1.4 mW-enough to power a subdivision of over
Cell structures: Batteries still key
JB Straubel of electric-car maker Tesla Motors noted that while
automotive applications differ from aviation ones, a great deal of
commonality and crossover exists between them.
This is particularly true in areas such
as battery technology, with the huge size of the automotive market
helping inevitably to drive down the price of advanced battery cells.
Since the Tesla roadster is exposed to
the risks and bumps of road travel, the design of its battery packs
embodies many safety features that could easily be applied to aviation
Other speakers came from NASA and Ford
and a number of themes recurred throughout the afternoon sessions.
On the technical side, everyone agrees
that at present, battery capability is the main bottleneck. When better
batteries are developed-as they inevitably will be-the motor and
controller technology already available will be waiting for them.
And on the economic side, everyone agrees
that electric propulsion, both on the ground and in the air, will
gradually supplant more and more fossil fuel technologies.
As Straubel put it, "as batteries
get cheaper, oil will only get more expensive."