The Wright Brothers company is developing an electric aluminum-fueled airliner
The Wright Electric Company (USA), the heiress of the company of the same name founded in 1909 by aviation pioneers the Wright brothers, presented the concept of a hundred-seat Wright Spirit electric liner for local airlines, which is supposed to be put into operation within five years.
It will be a zero-emission aircraft with a high-density energy storage capable of providing an hour-long flight of 1000 km, for example, on the Sydney-Melbourne or London-Geneva routes. In fact, the Wright Spirit was developed on the basis of the British Aerospace company’s commercial medium-sized jetliner VAE-146 in a 100-seat version, but already with electric motors. Hydrogen and aluminum fuel cells are considered as an energy source. Each of them has its pros and cons.
Hydrogen is an excellent light fuel with a specific energy capacity of 33313.9 Wh/kg, which is three times higher than the characteristics of aviation kerosene (12,000 Wh/kg). But at the same time, hydrogen fuel tanks will take up too much space – 4 times more than that of a jet counterpart. The energy potential of aluminum fuel – 8611.1 Wh/kg – is inferior to hydrogen and kerosene, but it is a multiple of 33 times higher than that of the most modern lithium-ion batteries. The ratio of power and volume looks very promising for potential buyers – 23278 Wh/l.
We are talking about an air-aluminum battery consisting of an aluminum anode and a carbon cathode separated by an electrolyte. As a result of the reaction of aluminum with atmospheric oxygen, aluminum hydroxide Al(OH)3 is formed at the cathode with the release of energy. However, it is a fuel cell, not a battery, since it cannot be charged like a battery. To maintain its operability, it is refueled like a fuel cell. The resulting aluminum oxide precipitate is removed for subsequent processing.
In the future, the developers will have to eliminate the problem of thin cold air with low oxygen content at high altitudes, for which aluminum-fueled aircraft will need additional compressors and heat exchangers. An aluminum fuel cell with a shorter flight range guarantees a greater load, ease of operation and lower cost.