You Could Soon Be Flying on Hybrid-electric Jets

Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens are collaborating to create the technology necessary for a hybrid-electric plane, the companies said Tuesday. Known as the “E-Fan X programme,” the collaboration started in 2012 as a response to the European Union’s desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and nitrogen oxide pollution.

They predict that 50 to 100-seater planes running on electricity could be making short-haul city hops by 2030, with vastly less noise and significantly less pollution than conventional jets. The technology could power flying taxis, enabling travel between city centres in a fraction of the time spent on the road or railway.

The companies will start by using a two megawatt electric motor as one of the aircraft's four engines. If tests are successful, a second fuel-driven engine could be swapped out for an electric motor. "The E-Fan X is an important next step in our goal of making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future," said Paul Eremenko, Airbus' Chief Technology Officer. Each company will oversee a different aspect of production.

Airbus is responsible for integrating the engines with flight controls. Rolls-Royce will develop the turbo-shaft engine, two megawatt generator and power electronics. Siemens will deliver the power distribution network.

The companies said they were looking ahead to the European Union's long-term goals of reducing CO2 emissions from aviation by 60 percent, as well as meeting noise and pollution limits that they said "cannot be achieved with technologies existing today." CO2 – carbon dioxide – is a greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to global warming.

Other projects for hybrid or electric planes are in the works. Kirkland, Washington-based Zunum Aero says it is working on a 12-seat hybrid-electric commuter jet. The company's website lists its partners as Boeing, jetBlue Technology Ventures, and the Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund.