NASA funds long shots aiming to make electric and eco-friendly aircraft

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#NASA #ElectricVehicleNASA funds long shots aiming to make electric and eco-friendly aircraft : One of these days we’re going to see aircraft go electric, just as cars are — but not for a while. In the meantime, we can’t slack off when it comes to the research that will make it possible. NASA has announced five research projects that may help make planes more efficient and green.

It’s part of the organization’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program, which has dozens of such projects aimed at improving or (as the name suggests) transforming aviation. These five were picked from a series of pitches made to the TACP team, Startup Battlefield style (or close, anyway).

The thing preventing electric aircraft from taking off, so to speak, boils down to a lack of energy: even the best batteries can’t store nearly as much power as an equivalent volume of jet fuel. We can make better use of the energy we can store by making aircraft lighter and their propulsion more efficient, but ultimately the batteries themselves need to get better.

One project is aimed at accomplishing that last goal with the creation of Lithium-Air batteries, which use oxygen as the active electron carrier, sucking it in when they’re being discharged and expelling it when charging. Li-Air batteries could theoretically achieve fossil fuel-like energy density, but there are serious technical challenges — ones the NASA team will be looking at.

Replacing the battery with a fuel cell is another option; one project is looking into the possibility of a super-efficient cell that would combine oxygen from the air with the hydrogen from jet fuel to produce electricity, then use the exhaust to drive a turbine. It would still be using fossil fuels, but it would be extracting more energy from them and doing it in a much cleaner way.