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Revolutionizing Air Travel: NASA’s Solid-State Battery Breakthroughs

NASA's Solid-State Battery

NASA has introduced an innovative solid-state battery, utilizing sulfur and selenium, which has the potential to transform aviation by enabling electric-powered flights in lieu of traditional fuel combustion.

The aviation industry demands substantial amounts of fuel to facilitate flight operations. Unfortunately, this process leads to the emission of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere during flight. According to assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 10% of transportation emissions in the United States and 3% of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to commercial air travel. This new solid-state sulfur selenium battery from NASA offers a promising solution to mitigate these environmental concerns.

Challenges of Electric Airplanes

Although electric airplanes do exist, their utilization remains limited due to certain constraints. These aircraft are unable to achieve comparable speeds or endurance as their counterparts powered by conventional internal combustion engines. The underlying issue is rooted in the energy density of electric batteries, which signifies the amount of energy they can store per unit of weight. Unfortunately, batteries have not achieved the desired energy density, falling short when compared to the energy stored in gasoline.

For an airplane to achieve takeoff, it would necessitate a battery with an impressive energy density of approximately 800 watt-hours per kilogram (equivalent to about 363 watt-hours per pound). Regrettably, until recently, the most advanced batteries only possessed an energy density of 250 watt-hours per kilogram (around 113 watt-hours per pound). This disparity in energy density has contributed to the limitations experienced by electric airplanes in terms of their flight capabilities and range.

NASA’s Solid-State Battery Innovations

Presently, the majority of electric vehicles rely on lithium-ion batteries, which are also prevalent in smartphones and laptops. Despite their commendable traits such as a favorable power-to-weight ratio and resilience to high temperatures, lithium-ion batteries fall short in providing the substantial energy required by larger airplanes for takeoff and extended flights. Moreover, these batteries incorporate inflammable materials, potentially jeopardizing aircraft safety in case of malfunctions.

Over a span of several years, NASA’s Solid-state Architecture Batteries for Enhanced Rechargability and Safety (SABERS) initiative has been dedicated to crafting a battery that possesses the potency and efficiency indispensable for aircraft propulsion. Distinguished by their solid structure, solid-state batteries are rechargeable power sources that remain intact even when subjected to damage, effectively eradicating the fire hazard.

NASA’s novel sulfur selenium prototype battery not only surpasses the safety of lithium-ion counterparts but also boasts enhanced power. The prototype boasts a remarkable energy density of 500 watt-hours per kilogram (equivalent to around 227 watt-hours per pound) — a twofold increase compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries. Addressing aviation’s energy demands, the sulfur selenium battery exhibits a discharge rate ten times faster than other solid-state alternatives.

Despite the rapid energy release causing temperature spikes, these batteries endure twice the heat endured by lithium-ion counterparts. Impressively, the team managed a 40% weight reduction, facilitating greater battery numbers and improved fuel capacities for electric planes.

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