Boeing's Concept SUGAR Plane Plugs In Like A Prius

In November of 2011, American commercial airlines consumed 1.83 million litres of fuel -- every day -- and paid a total of $US49.8 billion that month to do so. And with increasingly tight operating budgets, fuel efficiency has quickly become a primary concern for the airlines. Boeing thinks one possible solution is its new plug-in hybrid jet concept that burns 70 per cent less gas per flight with the help of local power grid.

The hybrid electric design -- dubbed the SUGAR Volt -- has grown out of Boeing's SUGAR (Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research) project to investigate and identify viable green jet technologies that can be developed by 2050 and is funded by a NASA contract. Other design variations are looking into using hydrogen or methane-based fuel cells as potential green power supplies.

The Volt, however, appears to be the most practical system to emerge from Boeing's research, functioning much like the Holden Volt or the plug-in Prius do. Every time it's at the gate, the Volt will draw electricity from the airport's power grid, charging an array of batteries stored in the belly of the plane. Dual-turbine engines would be powered by traditional jet fuel for takeoff, but once the Volt reaches cruising altitude, the system will switch over to electrical power for the majority of the flight. Not only does this result in zero emissions for most of the trip, it requires just 30 per cent of the fuel that a conventionally-powered plane would need and effectively double the operational range of the airliners. What's more, the plane's wingspan is expected to measure double that of current commercial models, which increases energy efficiency and allows for shorter takeoffs.

There's a reason why the SUGAR Volt isn't coming out until 2030, however, and it has nothing to do with Chevrolet's licencing agreements. As usual, it's the current state of battery technology that's holding up development. As Boeing researcher Marty Bradley explains, battery technology "needs to improve many, many times over what we have today. Battery technology is being worked around the world, especially in the auto and electronics industries. We need to leverage that work to see if we can get the improvement we need in an aviation compatible package." This is partly why the Volt will have such a massive wingspan -- to offset the expected mass of all those batteries. And even if the Volt itself never flies, you can be sure that the systems developed from this project will.

[Inhabitat - Clean Technica - Boeing - AV Web - IEEE - Aviation Week]

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    Improve many many times. that is the key....

    Currently Fuels are about 30-50 times more energy dense than batteries, allow for 30% burn efficiency versus about 60% charging and discharge efficiency in electricity, so if batteries are something like 15 times more efficient (energy density) they may be a contender.

    Also the battery is dead weight for the entire trip while burning fuel makes a plane lighter as the trip progresses....

    Probably more fuel can be saved by using a launch catapult or winch launch based on the ground....

    (I have always joked of using a tug plane to get the airliner into the air then the airliner continues with a lower fuel load)

    Maybe if the batteries can take the place of the weight of reserve fuen in the planes fuel tanks they may get up in the air for an equivalent weight, forgettign of course that having a turbo-electric fan adds weight to the system, (though the turbo engine only needs to be large enough for cruise power, therefore more efficient at cruise..... as they have said peaking power can come from batteries.. (how about jetisonable batteries, once takeoff is done, drop the flat batteries and continue without the dead weight (the battery can be a small UAS in its own right and land safely at the departure airport, charge up ready for use by the next take-off.... hell they cam use air to air refuling techniques to continually replace batter units in the air autonomously.., we amy be approaching constant loiter (but then they can already do that with fuel tankers..... I digress..

    Will that make planes quieter in the air? Great!
    Also would a mini nuclear power plant be lighter than a bank of batteries?

      I presume a mini nuclear reactor would be lighter (After all isn't Curiosity powered by one, and other space probes). The issue would be the problems with a plane crash and the public not liking a 'nuclear missile' flying over their homes that could be hijacked/crash.

    It is time to reopen the Thorium is better debate. The only reason Thorium does not get used, is the by products of Uranium/Plutonium can be used to make weapons. THORIUM PEOPLE!!! GET IT IN YA!!!

    I notice there's no mention of how many emissions are produced by the power plant that feeds the mains power to the airport...
    Not creating the emissions in the air is hardly helpful if the same emissions are generated at ground level.

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