NASA funded research into building a battery-powered aircraft and brought together a team of researchers to perfect it, Axios reported Monday.
The space agency aims to create a fleet of small nine-passenger electric aircraft by handing money to companies and universities, including IBM, the University of California, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon University.
Jet Blue and Airbus are also providing money to universities to figure out how to make all-electric jets work.
NASA says the electric plane could reduce airline’s carbon dioxide emissions drastically while creating a battery that could also be used to power electric cars. Airlines are interested in the technology to cut fuel costs, which make up roughly 30 percent of their operating expenses. Storing electricity in a battery would be cheaper.
But there are still huge technical hurdles to overcome.
The aren’t any batteries that can match the energy density of conventional jet fuel. Battery-powered solar aircraft are extremely expensive and fly more slowly than conventional jets.
In 2016, Solar Impulse 2 became the first solar plane to fly around the world, but it took more than a year to make the journey. The project cost $222 million. The global flight was originally expected to take five months but technical difficulties plagued the journey.
The solar plane flew at an average speed of 50 miles per hour. A conventional Boeing 747 flies at 570 miles per hour. Solar Impulse’s flight from New York to Spain took 70 hours, but a regular jet can make that trip in less than eight hours.
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