Boeing Invests in Advanced Battery Technology That Could Enable Electric Flight
Boeing recently released investment information about building a new company to invest in high-density batteries. Ultimately, this type of battery could lead to planes having electric or hybrid alternatives.
The aerospace company's HorizonX Ventures recently bought stake in a battery startup called Cuberg, according to a company statement. Cuberg specializes in efficient battery production.
"Currently, battery technology is still heavy," so you can't make it for a plane of current commercial aircraft size, Cuberg's co-founder and CEO Richard Wang told CNBC. "You need to take a leap to the next generation."
Wang founded Cuberg with fellow Stanford professor Mauro Pasta to create lighter, more sustainable battery types. In a press statement, Wang also mentioned that the partnership between Boeing and Cuberg could allow them to significantly scale up production.
Boeing and Cuber Partner Up
"We are excited to partner with the world’s largest aerospace company to extend Cuberg’s battery capabilities to help power the aerospace platforms of the future," Wang said. "With funding from Boeing, we will expand both our team and our research and development facilities to help customers integrate our batteries into their products, while also scaling up our technology to fully automated production."
According to the company website, the Cuberg technology uses a safer, more stable alternative to traditional organic electrolytes used in electric batteries.
"Cuberg’s technology replaces the traditional organic electrolyte with a safe and stable blend of non-flammable solvents and salts," the company's website noted. "Our electrolyte’s chemical stability allows us to combine a high-voltage cathode with a lithium metal anode in an inherently safe design that provides unmatched energy density and reliability."
And it's that safety that attracted vice president of Boeing HorizonX Steve Nordlund to Cuberg.
"Cuberg’s battery technology has some of the highest energy density we’ve seen in the marketplace, and its unique chemistries could prove to be a safe, stable solution for future electric air transportation," he said.
Commercial Electric-Powered Planes Closer to Reality
This certainly isn't the first type of electric-powered airplane ever produced. Several flight schools in Australia are looking to these innovations to offset rising fuel costs while training. However, Boeing's announcement an acquisition of Cuberg could bring the possibility of electric planes into the commercial realm.
Using more efficient batteries would also help reduce airline ticket prices overall as it would lessen the reliance on expensive fuel. In late 2017, airlines like JetBlue Airways said that fuel and related taxes were up over 25 percent. Around that same time, United Airlines reported their fuel costs had increased nearly 20 percent. CEOs like American Airlines's Doug Parker feared those increases as they would normally lead to a consistent increase in fares.
"Fuel spikes could have an impact," Parker said in an interview with USA Today late last year. "But if it just increases, given where we are, I think what you see is fares rise to levels to offset much of the fuel price increase."
Both companies have said there's no timeline for further development or commercializing the product just yet, but they have noted that the battery cells will undergo extensive testing. Wang told CNBC in an interview that the companies could test a prototype as early as late 2018.