Date of Award

8-2018

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Nicholas A. Roberts

Second Advisor

Steven Folkman

Third Advisor

Barton Smith

Abstract

Air travel has long been an established way of life for millions around the world, but innovation continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in the skies. While aviation has made it easy to travel long distances, the need to lower emissions from flights is pressing. The European Commission has described aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Airplanes release around 500 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, representing a significant contribution to global warming. The very concept of a fossil-fuel-powered airplane needs to evolve to fully mitigate the impacts on the environment and prevent the worst effects of climate change. Electric flight replaces petrochemical consumption with a cleaner, battery-powered electricity.

The problem is, batteries simply do not offer power-to-weight ratio or cost needed to be feasible and will not for some time. The technological advancements that allowed Tesla to squeeze 335 miles from the Model S and Chevrolet to get 200 out of a Bolt are not enough to power anything more than the smallest aircraft for the shortest distance.

For an electric flight to really take off and become mainstream in both commercial and recreational markets, it needs better batteries. Other industries have replaced traditional lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries, which now power most of our laptops, phones, and electric cars. But to be aviation compatible, the next generation of batteries needs to deliver a whopping amount of power while being simultaneously smaller, safer, and lighter than lithium-ion ones.

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