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EADS VoltAir all-electric aircraft concept unveiled in Paris

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June 21, 2011

The VoltAir is a concept all-electric airliner, that could be flying within 25 years (Phot...

The VoltAir is a concept all-electric airliner, that could be flying within 25 years (Photo: Gizmag)

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One of the displays that has generated a lot of buzz at the Paris Airshow 2011 is EADS' ZEHST concept - a zero-emission hypersonic airliner, that could be whisking passengers from Tokyo to London in under 2.5 hours, by the year 2050. Sitting alongside the ZEHST model, however, is another EADS concept aimed at the more immediate future. It's called VoltAir, and it's a proposed all-electric airliner that could be flying within 25 years.

VoltAir's two next-generation lithium-air batteries would power two highly efficient superconducting electric motors, which would in turn drive two co-axial, counter-rotating shrouded propellers at the rear of the aircraft. The motors would have a relatively easy go of it, as advanced carbon fiber composite airframe design, aerodynamics and low weight would make the airliner as easy to push through the air as possible. As is the case with most proposed and existing electric aircraft, it would also be very quiet.

The batteries would be housed in the lower front section of the VoltAir, where they could be removed and installed just like baggage, at the airport. Recharging would take place when the batteries were out of the aircraft, so planes would simply land, swap out their depleted batteries for charged ones, and take off again. Not only would this arrangement make turnaround times similar to those of conventional refueling, but it would also reduce the weight and technical complexity of the aircraft.

The VoltAir is a concept all-electric airliner, that could be flying within 25 years (Phot...

One of the reasons that the sky isn't full of VoltAirs already is the fact that electric motors still don't offer enough power density for large aircraft. With advances currently being made in the field of high-temperature superconducting (HTS) materials, however, EADS sees a potential solution on its way.

While certain materials are able to achieve superconductivity - an electrical resistance of almost zero - at very cold temperatures, others can achieve it at higher (but still cold) temperatures. These are the HTS materials. In the VoltAir's electric motors, HTS wiring would take the place of conventional copper coils, and would be cooled to the necessary temperature with liquid nitrogen. This would result in an almost lossless electrical current, and emissions that would consist of nothing but harmless nitrogen gas.

EADS anticipates that as the technology is developed, high-density superconducting electric motors will actually exceed the power-to-weight ratio of today's gas turbine engines.

The VoltAir is a concept all-electric airliner, that could be flying within 25 years (Phot...

The VoltAir certainly doesn't look like today's commercial airliners, but its appearance is about more than just getting attention. The fuselage is designed for an optimum thickness-to-length ratio, which reportedly minimizes aerodynamic drag while maximizing interior space. With the propellers mounted in the rear, they are able to "ingest" the wake from the fuselage, while the wings are able to remain streamlined and engine-free.

Because the weight of the batteries wouldn't change throughout the flight (unlike the weight of a kerosene fuel tank), the rear-mounted motors and the front-mounted batteries would be able to nicely balance the aircraft.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

Couldn't electric ducted fans be used during say final descent to recharge batteries? seems like a better alternative to jet fuel engines.

Michael Johnson
22nd June, 2011 @ 08:31 am PDT

Current problem with electric aircraft has more to do with energy storage than motor power.

Rohn
22nd June, 2011 @ 09:14 am PDT

Not sure why they are sticking with the wing paradigm. Why not move towards a lifting body or blended wing body? The tube with wings design is sooo 20th century.

Eletruk
22nd June, 2011 @ 09:37 am PDT

Where to start; the fuselage is very poorly area ruled, wings look too thin in comparison to fuselage inferring wing loading is too high, and the V-tail is partially obscured by the fan shroud which will offer poor control authority. Optimum thickness-legth ratio? Nonsense. Look up the Sears-Haack body - this looks nothing like it. I've seen buses more aerodynamic than this!

PeetEngineer
22nd June, 2011 @ 11:10 am PDT

Yes, this design is viable and elegant.

Muraculous
22nd June, 2011 @ 01:57 pm PDT

EADS is trying to placate the AGW cultist, with nonsense.

Slowburn
22nd June, 2011 @ 03:18 pm PDT

More "zero emissions" silliness. These schemes just move the emissions somewhere else. It would also seem that the volume of LN2 needed to cool the motors would be fery high. Combine that with battery weight and even a very light airframe and the useful load would be small compared to a standard design. It is nice to dream. Science fiction has a habit of becoming reality.

VHomer
22nd June, 2011 @ 04:26 pm PDT

Personally, anything battery powered is kind of ineffective, because you have to still burn or generate electricity somewhere else, depending on what you use you could be producing more CO2 and such, or you could use solar or such with low efficient, then we can port it across a grid, loose 10% of the energy due to resistance, then store them in batteries that further reduce to efficiency by only being able to convert so much chemical energy into electrical energy, so, I ask, whats the point? If you want a more effective transportable energy source, I'd go for hydrogen, not too many emissions(though its production still requires electricity) and it has a relatively high energy content.

Evan van den Berg
22nd June, 2011 @ 10:34 pm PDT

In the new world, the Chinese, Asian dominated world of the 21st century, nuclear-electric bullet trains will supply all practical land transport, fueled by Thorium fueled, plutonium free, benign waste product, high thermal efficiency reactors, (Google Candu,Thorium, China) ( Google Tsinghua University Chin pebble bed gas reactors) As as Americans already know, as oil gets more expensive, nuclear reactor powered ships, much after the fashion of current day American aircraft carriers, Russian ice-breakers, will supplant all 19th/20th century oil driven, 2-stroke, olden times designed ships. Simply a matter of economics for the large Multi-National Corporatists. When the Oil costs curve meets the Nuclear costs curve, Bingo! We will go nuke! Save for a miracle in electric motor design, that reduces weight dramatically, and astounding discoveries for storing electrical energy, electric planes are a doubtful proposition, More likely, freight by dirigible or even Zeppelin styled technologies will come of age, making electric, even Solar assisted power practical. Watch for changes coming from the communist Chinese. They are unfettered by the American Corpocracies conventions, and stand outside its reign of influence as we speak, hence their recent and rapid advances.

Bruce Miller
23rd June, 2011 @ 03:37 pm PDT

I dont see this happening, what happen when u reach an altitude where the air becomes so thing ????

Narendra Rajcoomar
27th June, 2011 @ 09:52 am PDT

...assuming, of course, that a miracle occurs in power density of batteries in the next 25 years.

BTW how fast do you have to go to get from London to Tokyo in 2.5 hours? And isn't a sonic boom kind of noisy??

Captain Obvious
27th July, 2011 @ 12:06 pm PDT
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