Is it possible to have a fully electric airliner?

How much room would have to be sacrificed for a power bank in these aircraft to allow similar range to the current models (e.g., A320, 737, etc.)?

Would it shrink the passenger capacity by a lot? Or is the concern mainly having enough power to push such weight?

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "electric"? If you want to replace jet engines by electric propulsion, you would end up with engines not optimised for the airframe cruise speed design, the need of electrical and hydraulic power generation (usually done by jet engines while in flight), ... $\endgroup$ – Manu H Nov 27 '19 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ Related: How many kilowatts to get an electric 747-8 airborne? and How far would an all electric A380 fly? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Nov 27 '19 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ Since this wasn't closed, perhaps we need a respective question for every single aircraft model ever produced. I can write the bot, anyone got the API specs? $\endgroup$ – Therac Nov 28 '19 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Therac: see update ;) $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Nov 29 '19 at 9:07

Well, to use the same airframe, you'd basically have to find a way to replace the fuel volume in the wings with battery volume, and batteries are somewhere around 15-20% of the power density of fuel, as the answers in this ASE post lay out pretty well.

So if you had an electric fan that made the required thrust, and somehow figured out how to replace all the fuel tanks with batteries, you'd probably have something, but only with about an hour's endurance, which wouldn't even make up the IFR reserve range requirements most of the time. You would have to replace a lot of pax with batteries to get even a couple hours endurance, which would kind of kill the business case.

So that kind of concept is pretty much a dead end until battery power density starts to approach the level of kerosene, maybe 20 or 30 years from now unless some massive new development comes along.

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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget that a battery pack has far more mass per cubic meter than a fuel tank, ESPECIALLY when averaged out over the duration of the flight as the battery remains at the same mass throughout the flight while the fuel tank gets lighter as fuel is used up, making batteries even less efficient. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Nov 27 '19 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ One hour with an heavier airplane, not to mention additional weight due to hydraulic power generation (an electric APU?), you hardly have time to get to cruise altitude and speed. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Nov 27 '19 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ That just accounts for the cruise power. Another big issue would be the C-rate/power required during takeoff. Large C-rate and high density are inverse to each other, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – JZYL Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ An hour? That sounds really optimistic :D $\endgroup$ – Jan Nov 28 '19 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ IF. In 20-30 years IF some massive new development comes along, not unless. It will take 10 from development to mass production, and it took 20 from Li-Ion mass production to Tesla cars. Airplanes are a bit more complex and a bit tighter-regulated. $\endgroup$ – Therac Nov 29 '19 at 5:38

John K.s answer applies to lithium batteries. They're quite convenient in many ways, but they clearly don't work for this application.

Fuel cells on the other hand are more reasonable. A fuel cell produces electricity from fuel, such as hydrogen or ethanol. As such, it doesn't have the weight penalties of batteries. Additionally, this mostly solves the problem mentioned by jwenting. The fuel is still oxidized and therefore the plane loses weight in flight.

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