Electric flight is coming, but the batteries aren’t ready

At least 20 companies are developing aerial taxi plans, including legacy aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus and ride-hailing giant Uber. Almost all of them promise to build aircraft that are battery-electric to eliminate the noise and pollution typically associated with helicopters and jetliners.

But flying requires an incredible amount of energy, and presently, batteries are too heavy and too expensive to achieve liftoff. The technology that allows Tesla to squeeze 300 miles of range out of a Model 3 or Chevy to get 200 miles out of the Bolt isn’t enough to power more than a two-seater aircraft with a flight range limited to only a few miles.

Energy density — the amount of energy stored in a given system — is the key metric, and today’s batteries don’t contain enough energy to get most planes off the ground. To weigh it out: jet fuel gives us about 43 times more energy than a battery that’s just as heavy.

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