Going Direct: Battery Breakthrough Could Cheaply Power Electric Planes


If it’s for real, the advance would revolutionize electric flight.

For the past many years, I’ve been the pro side in arguments with colleagues about the future of light aviation. Unlike many of my friends, I believe, to paraphrase William Faulkner, that light GA will not only survive but endure. I do accept that something has got to give technologically. When the means of propulsion—formerly piston engines—along with the cost of care (maintenance and replacement) and feeding (the price 100LL) is responsible for about half the overall costs of operation, something needs to change if we want aviation to expand beyond its die-hard enthusiast niche.

It might have just happened with the announcement of a breakthrough in battery technology that will fundamentally change not just the light aviation game but far bigger and wider ranging games, as well.

Normally when we hear such claims, we take them with a barrel of salt. But in this case, the inventor behind the project is none other than the inaptly named giant of battery technology John Goodenough, the guy who invented the lithium ion battery, without which our copies of ForeFlight might run for 30 minutes between charges on iPads that most likely would never have been invented.

To say that the 94-year-old Goodenough’s claim is controversial is a big understatement. Other materials scientists have gone so far as to suggest that the University of Texas scientist’s claim could only work by violating the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, which they most assuredly could not.

Still, no one is suggesting that Goodenough’s reported outcomes are fabricated. In them, his team was able to get revolutionary performance out of the new battery, including a 10-30 times greater energy density than existing lithium ion cells, and to top it off, the materials Goodenough’s batteries use are the stuff of everyday stockrooms, which would bring battery costs down so low that everything from electric cars to whole-home battery systems would suddenly find broad new markets.

The other incredible claims by Goodenough’s team are that the new batteries would charge in minutes, as opposed to hours, and that they would not be threats to explode, as lithium ion batteries can do.

Is it all too good to be true, as some other scientists are saying? Well, it could be. But then again, that’s what just about every scientist said about Goodenough’s invention of the lithium ion battery, and we can all see how that one turned out.


If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.


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