All-Electric Rolls Royce Aircraft Takes to the Skies

From ExtremeTech: UK aerospace manufacturer Rolls-Royce has announced the successful test of its first all-electric eVTOL aircraft. The Spirit of Innovation has completed its 15-minute maiden flight, and the company is pressing ahead with further refinements and improvements to the aircraft’s design.

Aircraft represent a particularly tricky target for decarbonization. While electric aircraft would indisputably run cleaner than our current fossil fuel-powered variety, existing battery chemistries are much heavier than the refined hydrocarbons they hope to replace. This has put severe constraints on efforts to electrify flight, and Rolls-Royce has developed some new technologies to combat them.

The Spirit of Innovation fields a 400kW electric power train in what Rolls-Royce claims is the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. The company has invested in both fixed-wing and E-VTOL (Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) designs, and it’s working with the airframe company Tecnam and the Scandinavian airline Widerøe to deliver an aircraft capable of making short-distance commuter flights by 2026.

Rolls-Royce chose a known battery chemistry: There are three 72 kWh Li-ion batteries inside the aircraft, weighing in at 450kg (990lbs) apiece. According to project manager Matheu Parr, Rolls-Royce’s battery partner Electroflight took its packaging inspiration from the electric auto-racing circuit. The company claims it has cut the packaging-to-battery cell weight ratio in half compared with a typical electric vehicle.

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