Aviation is a significant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions and 4% of all climate change impacts annually. One of the ways to combat this issue is through switching to electric aircraft. Now, a new study shows that after just one-quarter of the expected lifespan of an electric aircraft, its climate impact is lower than that of fossil fuel-based aircraft if green electricity is used.
In the new study, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, conducted the world's first life cycle assessment (LCA) of an existing, two-seater, all-electric aircraft and compared it to an equivalent fossil fuel-powered one, a press statement from the university revealed.
A key finding was that a small electric aircraft can have a significantly lower climate impact – up to 60% less – and other types of environmental impacts than equivalent fossil-fueled aircraft, the statement said. “However, there is a trade-off regarding mineral resource scarcity – about 50% more even in the most favourable scenario, mainly due to rare metals in the batteries of the electric aircraft”, study author Rickard Arvidsson said in the statement.
It’s important to note that electric aircraft are comparatively worse for the environment when the plane is brand new as the production of the battery consumes a lot of energy and resources, the statement adds. However, the longer the electric plane is used, the better it becomes for the environment.
After around 1,000 flight hours, the electric aircraft overtakes the fossil fuel aircraft in terms of less climate impact. Once this threshold is reached, it is better for the environment. The estimated lifespan of the electric aircraft is at least 4,000 hours.
Understanding the need for better batteries, electric aircraft Elysian Aircraft BV, a start-up working in partnership with Delft University of Technology, argued in two separate papers published this month, that previous studies of electric planes have ignored the opportunity to significantly cut the aviation industry’s carbon footprint. Hence, they have proposed a design for a 90-seater that would depend on batteries alone for normal flight, Bloomberg Opinion columnist David Fickling wrote recently in a piece.
According to the company’s founders, this could fly for up to 800 kilometres on battery power. That would make it possible for it to compete with some of the world’s busiest air routes, such as Seoul-Jeju, Hong Kong-Taipei, Sydney-Melbourne, and Atlanta-Orlando. These routes account for about a fifth of aviation’s CO2 emissions, the Bloomberg Opinion piece explained.
If the aviation industry aims to achieve its goal of reducing carbon pollution to net zero by 2050, it will need more green investments.