Electric aircraft – the future of aviation or just wishful thinking?

Peter Wilson

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

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Since the dawn of aviation, planes have primarily been powered by carbon-based fuels such as gasoline or kerosene. These contain a lot of energy for their weight, providing the vast power required to lift large commercial airliners on journeys across the globe. But with oil resources declining and penalties on greenhouse gas emissions increasing, the future of aviation is dependent on finding an alternative power source. Is electricity the answer?

A first step is to develop “more electric aircraft” – jet-powered planes that maximise the use of electricity for all the other aircraft systems. The idea is to significantly reduce fuel consumption by improving overall energy efficiency. In practice, this means reducing the weight of the aircraft, reducing drag with improved aerodynamics and optimising the flight profile to use less fuel.

But though these improvements can save on fuel, that alone isn’t enough. The shift to more sustainable aircraft requires major, longer-term solutions.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


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