Rolls-Royce is attempting to build the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft in time for the start of the new decade in 2020. Capable of travelling at more than 300 mph and without releasing any emissions, its ACCEL plane promises a greener way to fly in years to come. Samuel Ballard reports
Based out of Gloucestershire airport in the UK, the Rolls-Royce project, which has been named ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight), is aiming to fly an electric plane at more than 300 mph over Wales next year as part of initial tests.
If successful, it will mark the beginning of a new chapter in aviation history, and will lay the foundations for climate neutral flying at a time when the Earth is in crisis.
The current speed record for an all-electric plane is 210 mph, and was set by Siemens in 2017. In comparison, a B787 Dreamliner plane travels at about 560 mph but is powered by jet fuel that releases harmful emissions in the form of CO2.
Last year, flying produced 895 million tonnes of CO2 globally, which is about 2 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions created by humans (42 billion tonnes in 2018). Paying for carbon offsetting will help counter the problem but it doesn’t solve it. Electric planes, however, could.
“This plane will be powered by a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery ever built for flight. We’re going to demonstrate its abilities in demanding test environments before going for gold in 2020 from a landing strip on the Welsh coastline,” says Matheu Parr, ACCEL project manager for Rolls-Royce.
“We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the power train, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust. We’ve already drawn a series of insights from the unique design and integration challenges,” adds Parr.
He says: “And we’re gaining the know-how to not only pioneer the field of electric-powered, zero-emissions aviation – but to lead it. At this point, our confidence is sky high.”
The ACCEL electric plane is partly funded by the British government and has partners including the Aerospace Technology Institute and YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer.
Rolls-Royce is not the only operator looking to develop electric planes, with many other companies in the process of trialling new products.
Easyjet, for example, has partnered with Wright Electric, the US manufacturing company, to create its own electric aircraft. The company started testing nine-seat hybrid planes this year and aims to be flying electric planes by 2027.
Johan Lundgren, Easyjet CEO, says that the company will be launching the aircraft first on its London to Amsterdam route.
He says: “It is important to our customers that we operate sustainably”. Adding: “Technological advancements in electric flying are truly exciting, and it is moving fast. We can now foresee a future that is not exclusively dependent on jet fuel.”
Last year, Heathrow Airport in London announced it would waive landing fees for a year (equivalent to £1 million) for the first airline to fly electric-hybrid aircraft on a regular basis.
Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, says: “Heathrow has long been a leader in sustainable aviation. We championed carbon neutral growth in global aviation which will come into effect in 2020. The next frontier is zero-carbon flying and I hope this prize will help to make it a reality at Heathrow by 2030.”