Electric cars are the future. But electric planes are tricky: while it’s a viable power source for small aircraft, the weight and energy density of batteries (1/30th that of jet fuel) means they won’t be powering massive airliners any time soon.
No reason why an e-plane can’t set a record or two, though. The Rolls-Royce Spirit of innovation team is spearheading the ACCEL programme (ACCelerating the ELectrification of flight), in partnership with electric motor maker YASA and aviation startup Electroflight.
The aim is to create the world’s fastest electric plane at 480km/h-plus (300mph), but also assist in the development of “a portfolio of electric and hybrid-electric products into the urban air mobility, commuter and more-electric aircraft sectors.” Which sounds quite complex but yeah, small electric planes basically.
The company says the Spirit of Innovation is powered by an electric motor with over 370kW and the most power-dense battery ever used for a plane.
Jaguar is also in on the act, supplying I-Pace vehicles for the project. No need to worry about carmakers clashing, as Rolls-Royce Holdings – the world’s second-largest manufacturer of aircraft engines, among other things – is a completely separate entity to automotive company Rolls-Royce Limited.
You can see the fit. Both Rolls-Royce Holdings and Jaguar have British heritage and both have a lot riding on electric power. Jaguar, remember, has pledged to be pure-electric by 2025; some ACCEL members have also worked on Jaguar’s Formula E programme.
But wait, there’s more! Rolls-Royce claims the Spirit of Innovation can fly from London to Paris on a single charge. The I-Pace’s 90kWh battery and twin electric motors give it a WLTP range of 470km – exactly the distance by road from London to Paris. Cue David Brent-style interlocking of fingers.