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By MIT Technology Review Custom, an Energy Realities Partner

Batteries are becoming ever more compact; solar panels are becoming ever more efficient; and composite frame-construction materials keep getting both stronger and lighter. The products of those three trends are spreading throughout the world of technology, not least by making feasible what until recently had been only a sci-fi dream: electric airplanes.

To be sure, an electrically powered heavy-duty commercial aircraft that can handle passengers and cargo the way today’s airliners do is, at best, two or three decades away. The main obstacle: petroleum products, especially jet fuel, have tremendous energy density; that is, they provide enormous amounts of power relative to their weight. Unfortunately, electric batteries currently offer barely more than six percent of gasoline’s energy density. Lack of energy density is one reason that the batteries that power popular electric cars like the Tesla can weigh half a ton, about a quarter of the weight of the entire vehicle.

But those limitations notwithstanding, scores of experimental lightweight electric airplanes already exist that are capable of carrying one or two people for long distances—and soon, around the world. Many of these are basically electrified gliders, which need a tow from another plane to get airborne, but can stay up in the sky with the help of solar panels.
More forbes.com

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