Today’s commercial aircraft are generally equipped with four jet engines. A jet engine works by burning fuel to release hot exhaust gas. This gas is then forced through the blades of a turbine, making the turbine’s spinning wheels rotate and propelling the aircraft forward. Because conventional jet engines rely on fuel burn to operate, this technology is inextricably linked to CO2 emissions.
But what if little or no fuel was necessary to power engines? This is the idea behind electric and hybrid-electric propulsion. Composed of a rotor and a stator, an electric motor is powered by pulses of electricity from a power electronics device, which emits no emissions (NOx, CO2, particles, or otherwise). Similarly, hybrid-electric propulsion combines a conventional internal combustion engine with an electric-propulsion system, thereby reducing fuel burn.
The E-Fan X demonstrator, a model of which is on display at 2020 Singapore Air Show, is currently testing the potential of hybrid-electric technology to power a 100-passenger regional aircraft. Although the technology will not be mature until the 2030s timeframe (at the earliest), electric and hybrid-electric technology is expected to help the aviation industry to take a giant leap towards zero-emission flight over the long term.