HOUSTON — NASA’s X57 prototype powered by 14 battery-fed propellers aims to lift and land planes with five times less energy than jet fuel.
“That’s a huge impact,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer for the University of Houston said.
He sees plenty of groups working on the idea because it could cut travel costs by up to 60 percent. That would open doors for more on-demand, point-to-point freight delivery, Krishnamoorti said. Also, it would allow airlines to add routes to low-demand stops currently too expensive to offer much service.
“If you can have smaller aircraft that can have a far lower energy cost with them those routes start to become profitable,” he said.
However, that seems to be years, perhaps a decade away because even NASA’s newest batteries hold just a fraction of jet fuel’s energy.
Lifting their four-seat prototype aircraft requires 14 electric engines. Even when airborne, though, electric planes have a lot to prove, Krishnamoorti said.
“It has to be safer than what we already have,” he added. “You’ll see some of it in a few years when batteries become a lot lighter. (But) we’re going to see cars completely transformed, we’re going to probably see ships completely transformed and only then will we probably see airlines that will be fully transformed.”
He believes transatlantic is generations away. However, Krishnamoorti insists electric engines will change the way planes look, how goods are shipped and how we travel.