Pure electric aircraft: will Tesla aircraft overcome gravitational potential energy?

An image to illustrate pure electric aircraft and gravitational potential energy
© iStock/Nataliia Gorsha

Dr Peter Harrop, a leading industry expert and Chairman at IDTechEx has released the latest report on Tesla aircraft.

“Expect seven-times the air traffic in 2050 increasing greenhouse gas X4 unless something radical happens”, Dr Harrop argues. According to Harrop, Elon Musk has made some interesting statements about electric aircraft over the years and Tesla’s list of priorities will include reinventing pure electric aircraft. The new report assessed what Tesla brings to the table and whether they will overcome gravitational potential energy.

Harrop adds: “Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that once batteries are capable of producing 400 Wh/ kg, with a ratio of power cell to overall mass of between 0.7-0.8, a pure electric transcontinental aircraft becomes “compelling”. Bye Aerospace is the one to benchmark here. It has the most orders for a pure electric plane; over 400 ($165M) split between its two-seater eFlyer2 with excellent 3.5 hours endurance and four seat eFlyer4 with an even more impressive 4.2 hours endurance. More range can come from adding the solar wing option. The battery cells are from LGChem with about 260 Wh/kg cells so is Musk rational is saying 400Wh/kg gets us from these training aircraft to intercontinental flight?”

“The answer is yes, particularly if we consider small airliners with distributed thrust, solar bodywork like Tesla promises on its land vehicles and lighter-weight everything.”

Musk’s comments

Musk’s comments on an aircraft capable of VTOL and supersonic flight at high altitudes, include: “The trick is that you have to transition to level flight. The thing you’d use for vertical take-off and landing is not suitable for high speed flight. The interesting thing about an electric plane is that you want to go as high as possible, but you need a certain energy density in the battery pack, because you have to overcome gravitational potential energy. Once you’ve overcome gravitational potential energy and you’re at a high altitude, the energy you use in cruise is very low, and then you can recapture a large part of your gravitational potential energy on the way down. Indeed, several developers are already working on small pure-electric aircraft with rotating thrusters.”

However, Musk concludes: “Electric cars are important, solar energy is important, stationary storage of energy is important. These things are much more important than creating electric supersonic VTOL.”

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