Charging the Skies

Electric vehicles (EV) are becoming increasingly popular. One clear proof is Tesla's recent ranking as the most valuable car maker in the United States, topping industry veterans Ford and General Motors. As Tesla beats the EV competition on the ground, other companies are trying to conquer the skies. One of these is Siemens, and their Extra 330LE aerobatic plane just proved that electric planes can be as fast and as tough as their counterparts powered by .

On March 23, the Extra broke two world records for electric planes. One was in the World Air Sports Federation's (FAI) category of "Electric airplanes with a take-off weight less than 1,000 kilograms." Over a three-kilometer distance at the Dinslaken Schwarze Heide airfield in Germany, the Extra reached top speeds of around 337.5 km/h (209.7 mph). A slightly modified version of this electric plane also set a record for the "above 1,000 kilograms" category, reaching a speed of 343 km/h (213 mph).

Credit: Siemens

Then, on March 24, the Extra became the first electric plane to perform an aerotow. In a nearly silent maneuver, the Extra towed a type LS8-neo glider at a height of 600 meters in just 76 seconds. "This aerotow provides further highly visible evidence of our record-setting motor's performance capabilities," said Frank Anton, eAircraft head at next47, a Siemens venture capital unit. "Just six such propulsion units would be sufficient to power a typical 19-seat hybrid-electric airplane."

Cleaning the Skies

Airplanes are huge contributors to fossil fuel utilization. Planes for international flights, like a Boeing 747 for example, consume about 4 liters (1 gallon) of fuel every second. A ten-hour flight can burn as much as 150,000 liters (36,000 gallons) of fuel, and as much as 12 liters of fuel per kilometer (5 gallons fuel per mile).

Electric planes like the Extra 330LE could give us a big boost towards lessen carbon emissions in the skies. According to Anton, it won't be long before electric planes can be used for commercial flights. "By 2030, we expect to see the first planes carrying up to 100 passengers and having a range of about 1,000 kilometers," he said. Siemens is making it possible for hybrid-electric propulsion systems to be the future of aircrafts, and it is working with Airbus to scale their propulsion systems.

Siemen's isn't the only company working on electric planes. Wright Electric is busy with their 150-seater battery plane meant for short-haul commercial flights. NASA has also invested $43 million to fund electric plane development. Efforts like these set a new frontier for clean energy.

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