Engineers Are Designing An Electric Airplane — Yes, An Airplane

Engineers Are Designing An Electric Airplane

As engineers across the globe try to perfect the electric car, a new form of electric transportation is being born: airplanes.

University of Illinois scientists, funded by NASA, are working to design a commercial-sized airplane that is powered by hydrogen fuel. The planes would produce zero greenhouse gas emissions.

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The program is called CHEETA, or the Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft, and NASA is forking up $6 million in funding. Instead of hydrogen gas, their design uses condensed liquid hydrogen that can be stored and used with high-pressure tanks. The scientists believe they can alter the commercial flight business if they can successfully develop a zero-emission plane.

"Advances in recent years on non-cryogenic machines and drives have brought electric propulsion of commercial regional jets closer to reality, but practical cryogenic systems remain the 'holy grail' for large aircraft because of their unmatched power density and efficiency," Kiruba Haran, an electrical engineer leading the study, said in a press release. "The partnerships that have been established for this project position us well to address the significant technical hurdles that exist along this path."

Airplanes currently account for about 11 percent of all carbon emissions in the United States, according to a Center for Biological Diversity report. Finding a way to eliminate those emissions, scientists say, would have a huge positive impact on the environment. 

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