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Perspective on electric aviation, led by Chief Scientist Viswanathan, published in Nature

January 2022

The prestigious scientific journal Nature has published a perspective article from an all-star group of scientists on the challenges and opportunities of battery-powered flight. The inclusion in Nature represents just how much electric aviation has elevated into the scientific and popular mainstream in recent years — while the article itself highlights how much work is yet to be done.

The analysis concludes that pack-level specific energies in excess of 400 Wh/kg are necessary for urban air mobility applications, while commuter aircraft demand at least three times this level. Battery packs of 600 Wh/kg could be commercialized by 2030 with adequate levels of support, the team states.

The co-authors are Venkat Viswanathan of CMU and battery materials company Aionics, Inc., Alan Epstein and Yet-Ming Chiang of MIT, Esther Takeuchi of Stony Brook University, Marty Bradley of USC, John Langford of electric aviation startup Electra.aero, and Michael Winter of aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

According to lead author Viswanthan:

This work sets the foundations for decades-long efforts to come in developing batteries for electric aviation. The needs of aviation really challenge the battery scientist – we went back to the drawing board and asked the question of how to re-think. The promising avenue we identified is to try and make primary batteries rechargeable!

Taking new chemistry to market is time-consuming and difficult. We point out three things that hold great promise:

(i) Characterization, the ability to watch the failure mechanisms,
(ii) Robotic experimentation, ability to rapidly test a vast number of candidates
(iii) Rachine learning for materials discovery and optimization, ability to accelerate the innovation process by eliminating the number of iteration cycles.

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