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Hybrid algae/electric airliner plans unveiled in Paris

July 1, 2013

EADS algae/electric hybrid concept airliner plans unveiled at Paris Air Show

EADS algae/electric hybrid concept airliner plans unveiled at Paris Air Show

At the recent Paris Air Show aerospace giant EADS and the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce unveiled the plans for the “E-Thrust” project, the first “hybrid” airliner propelled by a combination of electricity, biofuel made from algae, and wind. Their plans are for a passenger aircraft that they claim would produce 75 per cent less carbon dioxide than a modern airliner. Its propulsion would work on a similar principle to the hybrid engine of a Toyota Prius.

While the plane’s propulsion would be provided by six electric fans along the back of its wings, a large engine, powered by biofuel, would generate electrical power, which would be stored in a large battery in the aircraft’s fuselage. The biofuel, the engineers say, “would probably be made from microalgae, which can be grown in ponds, and contains eight times less hydrocarbons than kerosene.”

Using a similar principle to the hybrid engines used in some Toyotas, the designers are hoping to make planes less dependent on kerosene-based fuels.

Jean Botti, chief technical officer of EADS, said: “Microalgae are considered one of the most promising pathways for the production of biofuels for aviation. We have already proved that it is technically possible to fly with algae oil. Now we need to demonstrate that the industrial production of algae-based biofuel is both ecologically and economically viable.”

Biofuel made from algae is a more realistic means of providing power than electricity alone, since an electric plane would not be able to carry more than a handful of passengers. However, the hybrid system thought up by EADS and Rolls-Royce – where batteries are recharged during the flight by another energy source – could one day power airliners carrying up to 120 passengers for two hours.

During take-off and flight, the plane’s fans will draw power from a lithium battery, which the engine will recharge once the aircraft has reached cruising altitude. The plane will initially just “glide” its way towards its destination, with the fans acting like wind turbines to generate electrical energy to top up the battery for the extra power it will need for landing.

Botti believes that this type of plane could be fully operational within 20 years.

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