Powering Up Electric Commuter Planes

The new Eviation UAV flights rely on innovative aluminium-based batteries.
31 July, 2017
On display at this year's Paris Air Show was an entirely new airplane that promises to truly change the game in regional travel.
Busy commuter flight routes have the potential to reduce carbon emissions by taking vehicles off the road and replacing them with electric passenger planes in shorter ranges.

That's the plan for Eviation, which has its Orca and Alice airplanes in prototype and plans commercial service by 2021. The small, smart aircraft are designed for freight and passenger service, respectively, without needing pilots and with less investment in maintenance. What's really behind the light, all-composite aircraft, though, is the clean power of Phinergy's aluminium-based battery systems.
The Alice is 12 meters long, with a wingspan of 15.2 meters, and can carry up to 9 passengers up to 1,000 kilometers. The smaller Orca, at 3 meters long and 4.5 meters across the wings, has a modular design to accommodate 70L of payload space, with automatic takeoffs and landings – although they are built to accommodate a pilot option. The company, led by Israelis Omer Bar-Yohay and Aviv Tzidon, says the battery systems make up 65 percent of the aircraft weight, which the light composites make up for.

Working together with them is the lithium ion battery system needed for the high power demands, coupled with the Phinergy system for longer range performance. Phinergy, an Israeli startup founded by Tzidon and based in Lod, is on a mission to deliver zero-emission solutions like the ones for Eviation.
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The batteries use aluminium, water and air to produce energy, with oxygen as a key reactant to release energy from the metal. Because the system "breathes" the air freely, it doesn't require the weight of conventional batteries that carry the oxygen within a heavy electrode. "Simply put, it's like the difference between a scuba diver and a fish," explains Tzidon. "While the diver carries oxygen tanks in order to breathe, the fish simply breathes through its gills."

By refining the air-electrode technology, Phinergy has figured out how to deliver an aluminium-air battery system to market that has a lifespan of thousands of working hours. That's creating a revolution in the possibilities for commuter and regional flights, but also other forms of transportation. The power systems match the ranges of non-electric cars, recharge to full capacity in just five minutes, and deliver cost savings by using inexpensive and plentiful aluminium. Best of all, they're 100 percent emission-free. That means that not just planes and cars, but buses and commercial vehicles can reap the benefits too.
Phinergy's role in powering the Alice and Orca is making the headlines, but the same technology is at work behind the scenes on the factory floor. The mobile energy applications for the aluminium-based batteries can be used to power robots and industrial machines so that they each have an individual energy source. It's liberating them from the warehouse wiring, so that companies are more flexible in how they configure their operations and production lines, as well as their forklifts and other equipment.

They're also useful as backup power generators, creating reliable energy for data centers, hospitals and other crucial industry players that works with renewable energy that's as clean as the new process is. What the new planes have in common with the other uses is that they all need mobile energy sources – and that's exactly what Phinergy is counting on aluminium to deliver.
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