Published on September 5th, 2020 |
by Zachary Shahan
September 5th, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Carbon Footprint Ltd. has launched a competition to encourage sustainable passenger flight. It has created the Freedom Flight Prize, a competition focused on crossing the Atlantic Ocean 100% powered by renewable energy — with seating for 100. The first to do so will win the prize, which is expected to be worth millions of British pounds by the time there’s a winner.
“The competition is open to manufacturers, research/academic groups and inventors to design and fly a 100+ seater passenger aircraft powered by 100% renewable energy. The plane must complete a return trip from London to New York; each leg of the trip in under 10 hours and must finish the return leg within 24 hours of starting out on the round trip.”
We’ve written about many different electric airplane startups, but not many have seating for 100 in their near-term or even mid-term plans. Are any of them equipped to make this record and prize-winning trip in the next few years? Another option is “hydrogen made by electrolysis using renewable energy.” Biofuels and synthetic aviation fuels, however, are excluded from this competition.
Details for how to enter the competition are here.
The prize seems to just be funded by sponsors. It’s unclear where its projections for fund growth come from, but as you can see in the timeline above, the expectation is that the prize will reach £1 million in 2021 and £10 million in 2025. The Carbon Footprint LLC team doesn’t expect a winner until 2029.
I’m an optimist and might bet on the prize being won sooner than that, but the requirement to make the flight in a plane that can seat 100 and in a relatively short timeframe certainly makes for a great challenge.
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently said that he thinks we are about 3–4 years away from a viable electric jet, which he has said requires the battery energy density of about 400 Wh/kg. However, that doesn’t imply we are 3–4 years away from a 100+ seat passenger airplane, which will inevitably take longer to develop. We’ve got the challenge of the airplane needing enough energy capacity and efficiency to cross the ocean somewhat quickly.
The estimated £10+ million prize is appealing, but a much bigger prize is in line for whoever wins this competition. Fully sustainable, 100% renewable electric or hydrogen flights between London and New York City would be attractive to a large number of people making that trip every month. Furthermore, governments will be more than happy to subsidize an operation to make that commercially viable.
Still, prizes inspire action, innovation, and results. Simply putting the idea out there will get some people thinking about it and working on it who might otherwise be involved in other sectors. The temptation of a challenge, and the reward of being a historical first, is an everlasting, renewable fuel for human inspiration and innovation.
John Buckley, MD of Carbon Footprint Ltd, aerospace engineer, and founder of the Freedom Flight Prize, said, “This is the revolution that I have been waiting my whole career for – the Freedom Flight Prize puts 100% renewable flights right in the spotlight in order to address the climate emergency we face. The Prize does not accept the compromise that long haul travel produces a high carbon footprint — in fact it recognizes that the technologies to power flights solely on sustainable renewable energy are available. We anticipate that the Freedom Flight Prize will propel the travel industry to deliver on the needs of the people and the planet.”
We may have to wait several years still. When someone does achieve this milestone and win this prize, though, it will be one of the top achievements of the decade, and perhaps one of the most memorable technological advances of the century.
While dreaming about the day we see a 100+ seat electric airplane cross the Atlantic from New York to London and back, here are a handful of electric airplane stories from recent years that look especially interesting and promising:
- Maiden Flight Of “Largest All-Electric Commercial Aircraft”
- Little NASA Electric Airplane Soon Coming To Life
- Pipistrel Ready To Set 7 Electric Aircraft World Records
- Wright Electric Begins Developing Propulsion System For Commercial Electric Plane
- Elon Musk Expounds On Electric Airplanes & Exceptional Engineers
- Rolls-Royce Claims Its Latest Electric Airplane Battery Has The World’s Highest Energy Density