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BBC Puff For Duracell Airplanes

May 30, 2020

By Paul Homewood

h/t Mr Grim


And they call it progress!!







The BBC naturally give it a glowing report, but Yahoo News point out some of the inconvenient facts:



Hopes for one day powering commercial airplanes with electricity instead of fossil fuels took a big leap forward this week when a Cessna commuter propellor plane modified to run on electricity successfully completed a 30-minute test flight in central Washington.

Two Seattle-area companies were behind the feat: MagniX, which designed the electric motor, and AeroTEC, an aerospace engineering and certification company that modified the plane. They say it was the largest all-electric passenger or cargo aircraft ever to fly. The test also follows a similar first flight in Vancouver in December of a seaplane powered by the same MagniX electric motor.

Normally seating up to 14 passengers, the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that circled Moses Lake, Washington, was retrofitted with a 750-horsepower/560 kW Magni500 electric motor that weighs 297 pounds. Power came from a 750-volt lithium-ion battery system that weighs two tons, including cooling equipment. Those batteries took up most of the cabin, leaving little room for passengers, MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski told the Seattle Times.

The low energy density of batteries has been a major barrier to economically feasible commercial air travel, a market MagniX is targeting, and the test highlights the ever-growing need to develop smaller and lighter batteries. While air travel accounts for a far smaller share of global CO2 emissions than either passenger cars or powerplants, airplane emissions have grown much faster than predicted as global demand for air travel (notwithstanding the current coronavirus pandemic) exploded.

The two companies are pitching the modified Cessnas as perfect for operating routes of less than 500 miles that transport 5 to 12 people between regional cities formerly operated by small, so-called “commuter” airlines, AeroTEC CEO Lee Human told FlightGlobal. Those carriers have mostly all folded as the airline industry moved to larger regional jet service. The Times also notes that because Cessnas and similar-sized planes are already certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial flights, getting modified e-plane versions certified should be faster than certifying an all-new electric airplane design. Ganzarski said he expects his propulsion system to be certified by the end of 2021.

FlightGlobal also reports that because they burn no fuel, have fewer moving parts and less complexity than conventional jets, electric Cessnas cost only about half as much to operate as internal combustion engines. The Magni500 reportedly consumed about $6 worth of electricity during the half-hour test flight.


Put simply, the batteries take up so much space that there is only room for about half the normal passenger load. This makes the claimed saving on operational costs rather superfluous.

But far more damaging is the massive reduction in range. The proper turboprop Cessna has a range of over 1200 miles. This new battery model is pitched at less than 500 miles, meaning its applicability for long distance trips is next to useless.

It is also claimed that it will be ideal for shorter distance commuter travel. But how long will it take to recharge the batteries after each trip? A proper airplane can be refuelled and off the ground within minutes. The duracell bunny version will likely take hours, making it next to useless for regular commuting.

Despite the BBC’s puff, this trial proves nothing. Battery powered flight has always been a technical possibility, and this new project proves nothing we did not already know.

On the contrary, it confirms that the very real problems we already knew about still exist. That is the low energy density of batteries, which mean that they take up far too much space and weigh too much.

This in turn severely limits the carrying capacity and range. The idea, as suggested, that “hopes for one day powering commercial airplanes with electricity instead of fossil fuels took a big leap forward this week” is frankly absurd.


Meanwhile, in other news, Roger Harrabin reports on plans to introduce a new transatlantic Hindenberg service, with local connections arranged by the Montgolfier brothers!

  1. cajwbroomhill permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:13 pm

    What is the power:weight ratio c.f.real aircraft needing power for take off and often of uncertain flight range, needing also to circle when delayed?
    Do they have jettison exhaused duracells?
    Are the lithium batteries fire-safe and is their mining “green”?
    What advantage c.f. fossil fuels?

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      May 30, 2020 10:34 pm

      They do have to keep a safety reserve (10% of charge I think), but it does put a whole new meaning on the term range anxiety, just pray you don’t encounter a strong headwind and find your ground speed down to a few mph. With just 1/2hr duration a 100mph headwind would likely mean aborting the trip.

    • May 30, 2020 10:35 pm

      According to the “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking from the Manhattan Institute:
      “… The energy equivalent of the aviation fuel actually used by an aircraft flying to Asia would take $60 million worth of Tesla-type batteries weighing five times more than that aircraft …”

    • In the Real World permalink
      May 31, 2020 12:54 pm

      I once did a calculation comparing energy efficiency of a modern 737 & an electric aircraft on a a transatlantic flight .

      The electric aircraft would need 1500 tons of batteries .

      Until someone discovers a new , magic , previously unknown element with much higher energy density than Lithium , as they say , it is never going to get off the ground .

    • Russ Wood permalink
      June 1, 2020 3:50 pm

      Commercial aircraft have to have at least 30 minutes of fuel remaining at the end of a trip, for circling the destination if they are unable to land. This isn’t too bad, when the fuel has been burned up and the aircraft is light. But the battery weight is always there – so adding 30 minutes required safety power to an already constrained range would be a commercial killer! Now, I may be wrong about the required margins – it’s been decades since I assisted on writing a flight planning program – but there are all kinds of range requirements.

  2. Kai permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:17 pm

    The two big difficulties with electric aeroplanes are:
    1: While the battery has the same weight for the whole flight, a fuel driven plane gets lighter during the flight. This has a great influence on the range, economy….
    2: The fact that an electric plane will have to land with a full takeoff weight will to a great extent influence the construction of the plane, making it much heavier. A fully laden 747 cannot land with a full fuel load. It will have to shed most of the fuel before landing.

    These two points make it impossible for electric planes to compete in the foreseeable future!

  3. Curious George permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:18 pm

    There is nothing wrong with the BBC. Don’t you know that you are not supposed to fly at all? Had God wanted you to fly, He would have given you wings.

    • May 31, 2020 6:46 am

      Aha! But god did give horses and bulls anuses. I wonder why?

    • PaulM permalink
      May 31, 2020 10:07 am

      Or even provided the tickets 😁

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      May 31, 2020 2:17 pm

      Isn’t the line

      “If God has intended us to fly, he would never have given us the railways?”

      Still, I suppose there is no danger of the ashtray falling off in such a fire hazard of a plane – and definitely you would not be able to take your 125lbs of excess baggage, but have to leave her behind. You will also find yourself on the “advanced flight” – with a four hour delay while they recharge.

      Flanders & Swann anticipated it all those years ago… Drop your hat!

    • Russ Wood permalink
      June 1, 2020 3:59 pm

      On Flanders and Swann, I like the Tannoy announcements: “Would all passengers for sqrrkszzt please XXiizzpt to departure gate SSSHkkkzz!”. I think that the airports learned the technique from British railway stations….
      Johannesburg’s ORT airport gave up speaker announcements for local flights – probably because there are 11 official languages, and the aircraft would have taken off before they gave ALL the announcements!

  4. Geoff B permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:18 pm

    In the drive to replace hydrocarbons as a fuel source, it is overlooked that most of the heat produced in the combustion process actually comes from the atmospheric oxygen. It comes from the breaking of the O2 bond.

    CH4 +2O2 =CO2 +2H20

    atmospheric oxygen is free…….there will never be a way of storing sufficient energy in a battery to make battery powered flight economic. It does not really work for a car!!!

    • Curious George permalink
      May 30, 2020 10:27 pm

      Breaking a nitrogen bond would involve even more energy …

    • dave permalink
      May 31, 2020 10:50 am

      “…rubber bands..”

      I seem to recall that five hundred twists (about two minutes of twiddling) made my eight ounce model fly one hundred yards. Now scale that up to a two hundred ton aircraft flying five thousand miles…fifty million million twists…
      about six hundred years of twiddling. Perhaps we can make the passengers lend their fingers to the task.

      • dave permalink
        May 31, 2020 11:36 am

        Whoops. That is a comment on rubber-band power as an alternative to batteries.


        As regards ‘breaking of bonds,’ it is a misconception that bonds STORE energy.* Emphatically, they are not like compressed springs.

        It TAKES energy to break bonds (endothermic process) and we get energy back when bonds form (exothermic).

        On the left of the equation for the combustion of methane (calculating with one mol of methane molecules), four mols of C-H bonds and two mols of O=O bonds are broken, which all costs an input of 2,642 kJ; while on the right
        two mols of C=O bonds and four mols of O-H bonds form with a release of 3,358 kJ.

        It is the difference of 716 kJ which we notice as the heat of combustion. This was never stored in either the methane or the oxygen, but in some sense in their relative situations.

        It is perfectly true that a large amount of oxygen is taken from the atmosphere in combustion. If a plane had to carry this it would be hopeless. It is bad enough when a space-rocket has to carry an oxidiser. But this is a high-value journey.

        *Biologists are particularly prone to idiotic statements like “The cell stores energy in the third phosphate bond of the ATP molecule.” Drives me nuts!
        I know it is like writing on water, trying to correct comforting misconceptions.
        I only try once.

      • May 31, 2020 12:19 pm

        Darn, Dave, you beat me to it. I was going to post, “What’s next? Rubber-bands?”

  5. Thomas Carr permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:23 pm

    Not news . It was printed on page 17 in The Times yesterday. No payload it seems. Pilot only.

    • 01 Cat permalink
      May 31, 2020 10:23 am

      Well, that’s no problem; put everyone who wants to fly on a pilot-training course, and then they can fly themselves!

  6. MrGrimNasty permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:27 pm

    They might be ‘aiming’ at up to 500 mile routes. Currently 100 miles half load on ‘2019’ batteries tech, hope to get 100 miles full load on next generation!

    They are hanging their hopes on rather over-optimistic expectations of battery development if you ask me.

    • May 30, 2020 10:40 pm

      That applies to the entire ‘renewable energy’ fallacy: ‘cart before horse’.

    • Duker permalink
      June 1, 2020 3:55 am

      Next generation batteries ?
      The ones that are aviation certified are even further away as the standards are so much higher

  7. alsomaninthemirror permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:33 pm

    The Cessna is a propeller plane, and the engine literally turns torque into propulsion. The company’s CEO, Roei Ganzarski, told The Guardian that for retrofitted Cessnas, which is what Harbour Air’s fleet will be, the range is up to about 100 miles….. Huuummmm

  8. Ray Sanders permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:37 pm

    Leaving aside the incredibly low energy density of the battery, there is the obvious problem that a flat battery has the same mass as a fully charged one. The aircraft is therefore always flying “heavy” and consequently its minimum landing distance is pretty much the same as its take off distance. The notion that electric planes can fly into shorter local airstrips is quite clearly a load of bollocks! but the again isn’t that what all “green” thinking is all about?

    • Gerry, England permalink
      May 31, 2020 11:02 am

      This is where innovative thinking comes in. Instead of having one big large single battery you have a collection of batteries and as each one is exhausted it is jettisoned to float back to earth on a parachute. Each battery has a transponder so that a truck can go along and collect up the used batteries and return them for recharging.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        May 31, 2020 3:05 pm

        Make them like guided glider bombs – then they can fly to your destination. Or at least some of the way there.

      • Tomo permalink
        June 1, 2020 11:52 pm

        You’re not a relative of the chap with the solar energy recovery from cucumbers plan are you?

    • Duker permalink
      June 1, 2020 4:05 am

      The mass of the batteries remaining the same throughout the flight is compounded by the other factor, the higher drag due to the increased weight of the plane even from takeoff.
      Car engines are very inefficent due to the stop start nature of road driving and increased drag from a heavier car doesnt come into it.
      Planes of course have a efficent flight profile mostly at a steady engine speed during the cruise phase so the electric motor doesnt give any gains there. The loss of payload due to the heavy batteries and the reduced range from increased drag due to weight and the constant weight of the plane even at landing means any flights other than ‘sightseeing’ arent really tenable. While the cost of the electricity for the batteries may be low, the life cycle of the batteries hasnt been included.

  9. Jackington permalink
    May 30, 2020 10:46 pm

    They can always use a wound – up elastic band as back up.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      May 30, 2020 10:56 pm

      Can you imagine the compensation claims if a passenger gets her hair caught in the rubber band down the middle of the aisle?

    • May 31, 2020 6:22 am

      I recall that over 50 years ago, model aeroplanes were powered either by a battery or by a rubber band. There doesn’t seem to have been much advancement made in half a century. Will rubber bands make a comeback?

  10. tom0mason permalink
    May 30, 2020 11:51 pm

    So with a range of 500 miles max, it’s not entering the GREEN version of ‘Around the World in 80 days’ ?

    Meanwhile in the real world ‘Green’ transport like public buses and trains run nearly empty for most of the day, showing that real ‘cost per person per mile’ is nowhere as good as individually owned ICE powered cars, or medium and long haul passenger jet planes.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      May 31, 2020 12:15 pm

      The range is 100 miles, routes of under 500 is the aim – they clearly hope battery development will suddenly start obeying Moore’s Law! It won’t happen.

  11. Graeme No.3 permalink
    May 31, 2020 12:07 am

    The energy density of a Tesla battery is 205 Wh/kg. That of petrol is 12,889 or 63 times as much. Even allowing for lower conversion efficiency it means that lithium (or other) batteries have to pack in at least 20 times as much energy as now to compete.

    And one of the advantages of electric cars is the use of regenerative braking to help the range. Not being a pilot I cannot see this applying in an aeroplane.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      May 31, 2020 8:47 am

      I think it is also worth remembering that the energy density of U238 run through a Breeder Reactor is 23,094,444,444 Wh/kg. The “Green Blob” never seem to like me for pointing that out!

  12. Broadlands permalink
    May 31, 2020 1:13 am

    And never mind where millions of those eventually dead batteries will be stored…next door to those rusted-out gasoline powered vehicles, or those unrepairable solar panels and wind turbines. Shove them all out to sea? Climate policies have consequences.

  13. Iain Reid permalink
    May 31, 2020 8:14 am

    It seems to me that there must be some sort of distorted logic for anyone to try and make an electric aeroplane? And to further talk about large commercial aircraft being electric powered is beyond belief, a lunatic assylum beckons?
    Sheer futility!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      May 31, 2020 11:31 am

      It does make you wonder about the aviation companies but are their research projects being funded by the taxpayer – either completely or in part? Is it a ploy to keep governments on side by playing along? It does bring to mind the statement made by the Shell CEO when closing down a carbon capture and storage project when the taxpayer cash was withdrawn. He said he was disappointed that it wasn’t going to continue as it could provide a good economic opportunity. Obviously not good enough for Shell to keep funding though.

  14. May 31, 2020 8:49 am

    If battery weight is an issue for vehicles, it’s a showstopper for large aircraft that wouldn’t even get off the ground.

    • May 31, 2020 12:27 pm

      In the late 1960’s my older brother, the physicist, worked on a project at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories concerning sunspots and space travel. How much lead cladding would you need to protect a capsule traveling through a sunspot storm. The answer? So much that you would never get it off the ground. Stay home.

  15. Ben Vorlich permalink
    May 31, 2020 9:35 am

    One route comes to mind, Westray to Papa Westray, Orkney length is less than 2 miles duration normally about a minute. I can’t image passenger numbers get into double figures that often. There’s the added bonus of Orkney being awash with free clean green wind energy meaning the cost of each flight will be minimal. There may be room for additional island hopping routes once journeys are virtually free. Similar opportunities must exist in Shetland and the Hebrides both inner and outer.

  16. May 31, 2020 9:55 am

    Why use batteries? A 1200 mile electric cable will solve the problem of the batteries going flat! Sorry my mistake, if the wind doesn’t blow, the Sun doesn’t shine and the US forests are depleted of trees then the inability to fly will be the least of our problems!

    • dennisambler permalink
      May 31, 2020 1:36 pm

      I know you jest, but there have in the past been serious projects to have tethered aerial windturbines…John Brignell at Numberwatch looked at the cable problem, (an engineer speaking).

      There is apparently a solution to the battery problem, make the battery into an aircraft. The Flying battery:

      “The ‘Flying Battery’ integrates various free energy generating devices such as structural solar cells, structural energy storage devices, thermo-electric generators, and vibration induced power generators to create a flying structure that will be more efficient overall.”

      Free energy always sounds good.

  17. tom0mason permalink
    May 31, 2020 10:24 am

    Some limited specification details for the Magi500 electric motor.
    Humm, runs on 4 x 3 phases with DC Link Voltage (nominal) 540 V.
    Apparently it has an Efficiency (Motor) >93% — I wonder what that means? Just 7% is wasted heat and not rotational energy?

    • dave permalink
      May 31, 2020 10:36 am

      “Just 7% is wasted heat…?”

      Yes. That part of the process (electrical power turns into mechanical power) is efficient in all electric motors.

  18. mjr permalink
    May 31, 2020 12:04 pm

    simple enough – just get the plane to fly through thunderstorms.. i am sure some smart *rse can invent a way of fast charging the batteries from lightning strikes. . or get the passengers to rub balloons against themselves.. should build up enough static electricity to power the plane. Or just ensure that each plane has a Harrabin on board. This is a new invention that creates enough hot air to keep any mad cap idea up in the air, And i understand the BBC already has shown the ability to clone it

  19. g00se permalink
    May 31, 2020 12:46 pm

    >>the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that circled Moses Lake, Washington, was retrofitted with a 750-horsepower/560 kW Magni500 electric motor<>The Magni500 reportedly consumed about $6 worth of electricity during the half-hour test flight<<

    I must be misunderstanding something. Let's assume for the sake of argument that a 560kW motor is running at full power on my mains here for half an hour. That by my calculation would cost me c. £6653.22. So off by roughly 1000x. Shurely shome mishtake? Can anyone explain where i'm going wrong?

    • dave permalink
      May 31, 2020 4:40 pm

      560 kw for half-an-hour is 280 kwH which at $0.10 a kwH (a possible commercial off-peak rate in the USA?) costs $28.00 – certainly not $6.00. At consumer rates it would be more like $42.00.

      So, off by a long way, but not 100x.

      Anyway, the whole thing is stoopid.

  20. dennisambler permalink
    May 31, 2020 1:16 pm

    “Meanwhile, in other news, Roger Harrabin reports on plans to introduce a new transatlantic Hindenberg service, with local connections arranged by the Montgolfier brothers!”

    Monbiot was pushing this in 2008!

    “Many will cite the Hindenburg, but flying without harming the planet is possible. These craft are worth developing “

    • Dodgy Geezer permalink
      June 1, 2020 7:07 am

      Actually, you can avoid a Hindenberg by using Helium. But airships fly low and slow. So you can’t avoid the kind of crash that took out the R101…

      • Russ Wood permalink
        June 1, 2020 4:07 pm

        Yes, but (I always seem to be saying that) Helium is getting to be in short supply – so much that I read a comment about not wasting it on kids’ balloons! Apparently it is extracted from the natural gas from certain fields, and many of those fields are running dry.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      June 1, 2020 11:07 am

      Having watched a modern airship spend more than 2 hours trying to make headway against the wind to land at a minor airport, then have to give up and go away, yer really practical.

  21. g00se permalink
    May 31, 2020 1:50 pm

    Sorry – bungled the calc. It would cost me £66.53. Still a factor of ten though. Probably accounted for by it not needing to run at full power all the time

    • Sandy Langside (@SandyLangside) permalink
      June 1, 2020 10:42 am

      The efficiencyof battery charging has to be taken into account, say 20% is lost between the meter and being stored. So about £80?

  22. Alan Davidson permalink
    May 31, 2020 2:09 pm

    The whole renewable energy industry has been built on an assumption of extensive advances in battery technology, but in the past 20 years or so nothing much has changed. In addition there is a world scarcity of the metals that are the essential components of batteries today. If there were a radical new development coming along in batteries, it would be very significant news but I don’t recall seeing anything for many years. For electric aviation to be viable, there would need to be a huge improvement in battery power to weight ratio. Is anything on the horizon at all?

  23. Gamecock permalink
    May 31, 2020 3:04 pm

    ‘the test highlights the ever-growing need to develop smaller and lighter batteries’

    So they knew the batteries are too big and heavy before they took off.

    I wonder if we can get someone to work on developing smaller and lighter batteries.

    What? Billions have been spent on it in the last 30 years? The BBC thinks it’s a great new idea.

  24. It doesn't add up... permalink
    May 31, 2020 3:15 pm

    One electric aircraft I did admire was a scale model Vickers Vimy with about a 7ft wingspan being flown by the proud dad who built it, up on the local golf course, supposedly to amuse his young sons. But the admiration was more for the celebration of the origins of transatlantic flight, and the accuracy of the modelling, and its moth-like flight performance. I suppose I was grateful that he had chosen electric propulsion, rather than the extremely loud waspish notes that a pair of 10cc engines typical of R/C model aircraft of that size would have produced. However, after about 10 mins he had to bring it into land. And he confined the flight to only a few feet off the ground over about 100 yards of the fairway.

  25. MrGrimNasty permalink
    May 31, 2020 4:51 pm

    Oh no! The MO is going to need a bigger chart – provisional CET now above +2C.

    Keep calm and carry on – I’m predicting snow in October.

  26. Coeur de Lion permalink
    May 31, 2020 5:11 pm

    “Big leap forward”? What is the matter with the BBC? Why are they going on like this? They are manned (sic) by little lefty girly arts graduates (and a 2.2 in The History of Art would be high). With a frictionless cloaca to Greenpeace press releases.

  27. g00se permalink
    May 31, 2020 6:43 pm

    >> by little lefty girly arts graduates <<
    Yes and that's just the men

    • Duker permalink
      June 1, 2020 11:36 pm

      Graduates? If only . Isnt the BBCs most senior climate reporter -Harrabin, without any degree at all.

      • dave permalink
        June 2, 2020 8:51 am


        A link from Wikipedia to a website “My time at Cambridge” brings up an autographical piece by him.

        He went to St. Catherines at Cambridge, and ‘read’ English.
        It is obvious from the tone that he was not sent down or expelled.
        He did cease to attend lectures after his first term. This happens and is not necessarily fatal to your studies although it is obviously a sign that you are either struggling in some way or not serious . As to what class of degree; he dodges this by claiming even his wife does not know. It would seem it is embarrassing to him.

        This leaves three leading possibilities:

        (1) He failed his finals for Bachelor of Arts, and has no degree.
        (2) He obtained a Bachelor of Arts with 3rd Class Honours.
        (3) He was given a ‘Special.’ This is an Ordinary Degree given to someone attempting a Degree with Honours, and failing to reach the standard. In Oxbridge snobby culture this is rare and a bit naff.

        If it is (1) he has no degree and should never say “I went to Cambridge” without adding “I did not take a Degree.” I would exclude (2) as really that is only an embarrassment for people who want to stay in Academia.

        In the case (3) he would have a modest earned B.A. and an unearned “Oxbridge M.A.” which is an automatic unearned promotion.

        The most one can say can say is that he had a dilettante Cambridge experience, and probably did little more than read novels. As the Cambridge milieu is very much one of exclusive, intensively specialized, subject interests, he will rarely have had the opportunity to learn anything from people at Cambridge doing harder subjects. To be fair, If he had tried they would have snubbed him. In the first term at Cambridge everyone discusses the world excitedly with everyone else. After that, the intellectual light goes out.

        Cranfield came him an Honorary (i.e. unearned) Doctorate of Science in 2017.

        Personally, I do not care if someone has a degree or not.

      • dave permalink
        June 2, 2020 9:48 am

        “Cranfield came…”

        Cranfield University gave…

        Earning a degree means you have tried to understand something, and that is always admirable, and sometimes even useful. My only difficulty is with the conceit of so many that it is a licence to pontificate.

  28. cajwbroomhill permalink
    June 2, 2020 9:07 am

    Like most BBC political and “scientific” staff, Harrabin is a fake trying damagingly to alter government policies.
    Yet we pay for these fakes

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