Although battery technology has come a long way in the last few decades – electric cars, for example, were unthinkable before high-capacity lithium-ion and lithium polymer batteries – we still have a long way to go.
Whether it’s a jetpack, flying car, or any other innovation like a VTOL aircraft for personal mobility, many people are looking to the future – and wondering when a true revolution will occur in the world of battery technology for aviation and aerospace.
In this blog, we’ll take a brief look at where battery technology is – and what needs to be done before batteries can be used to power electric VTOL aircraft, and create innovative urban mobility solutions.
Where We Are Today – An Evolution, Not A Revolution
Today, we are creating batteries that are more energy-dense than ever before. Companies like Tesla are investing millions into battery technology, they and other industry leaders have come up with some breakthrough technologies that boost the energy density of batteries.
However, today’s batteries are an evolution, not a revolution. We are simply iterating on older battery technologies like lithium-polymer, and true innovations are few and far between.
The increased focus on electric cars and self-driving cars is certainly helping to boost research in this space, and it is highly likely that there will be a breakthrough in the near future – but this has not yet occurred.
What’s Required For Electronic Aviation? Where Do We Need To Be?
The primary challenge facing “sci-fi” inventions like personal VTOL “flying cars” and jetpack products is energy density.
Simply put, most batteries are extremely heavy, and have a very low energy density, compared to traditional fuel. Even the world’s most energy-dense batteries cannot compare to the energy density offered by gasoline or jet fuel.
As an example, advanced batteries crafted by electronic vehicle companies like Alta have an energy density of around 180 Wh/kg, and the Tesla Model 3 battery clocks in at 207 Wh/kg. These are good numbers – but still nowhere near where they need to be for VTOL vehicles and other such innovations.
Jet fuel has an energy density of 9.6 kWh/L. What this means is that jet fuel, pound for pound, is nearly 50x more energy-dense than batteries. However, the inefficiency of internal combustion means that 1,000 pounds of jet fuel yields only about 14x more power than 1000 lbs of batteries.
To sum it all up, batteries need to become much lighter and more energy-dense, in order to make it possible to develop lightweight, personal electric VTOL aircraft.
What New Battery Technologies Are Being Developed?
Most analysts think that VTOL aircraft and electric flight is about 30 years away given our current pace of development, but new battery technologies could usher in a new era of urban mobility in a much shorter time-frame, should they come to fruition.
There are several new battery types in development. Magnesium batteries, lithium-oxygen batteries, and nickel-iron batteries are just a few of these.
Solid state batteries are also in development, with large companies like Volkswagen plunging millions into R&D. These batteries could offer a much higher energy density, compared to batteries that must use liquid or polymer-based electrolytes.
Battery Technology Is Steadily Improving – And The Era Of Electric Flight Is Not Far Away
Despite the current state of battery technology, our ability to store electricity is improving every year. And, within the near future, it’s entirely possible that new battery innovations will allow for the clean, efficient storage of power – and for batteries that are light enough to power aircraft and VTOL personal mobility devices.
Soon, the era of electric transportation will be upon us. Whether we’re driving, flying, or using any other form of transportation, battery technology will allow for an era of unparalleled innovation.