Flying electric cars would have lower emissions on long trips than standard electric vehicles.
Flying cars may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but they could help fight climate change, according to a new study.
NASA and several companies, including Boeing Co. and Airbus SE, are competing to develop electric versions of flying cars. The technology is approximately five years from demonstration and 10 years from deployment.
According to the study by the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Co., once they become a reality, flying electric cars will produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional cars in certain applications.
In particular, flying electric cars will be a much more sustainable option when fully packed with passengers and when traveling long distances, according to the study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
The design of flying electric cars, formally known as electric vertical take-off and landing planes, or VTOLs, varies widely by company. But overall, they look like a crossover between a car and an airplane with two or more electric propellers. Some can fly up to speeds of 150 mph.
Using publicly available data from companies, the researchers compared the energy use and emissions of flying electric cars to traditional cars. They found that flying electric cars would have 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional cars when carrying a pilot for 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles.
Flying electric cars performed best when fully loaded with a pilot and three passengers for a trip of the same distance. In that scenario, they would have 52% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional cars.
Still, flying electric cars fared worse compared to battery-electric vehicles. They would have 38% more greenhouse gas emissions than electric vehicles when they carry a pilot, and only 6% lower than electric vehicles when they carry a pilot and three passengers.
In terms of efficiency, the researchers found that flying electric cars use significant energy to take off and land, but are very efficient when crossing. That means they are more efficient overall on longer trips.
Gregory Keoleian, a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, said he grew up watching "The Jetsons," the animated comedy that describes a future with elaborate articles and inventions.
"I grew up watching 'The Jetsons,' and to think that 50 years later we did an analysis of the technology is quite exciting," he said.
Keoleian said his team concluded that the best application for flying electric cars would be an air taxi service that would transport multiple passengers over long distances. Such a service could replace car trips in areas with heavy congestion or winding routes.
As an example, Keoleian cited the car ride from Detroit to Cleveland. In addition to the bottlenecks, the route features a winding road around Lake Erie.
Ultimately, Keoleian said that new technologies such as flying electric cars could help decarbonize the transportation sector, which recently surpassed the energy sector as the largest source of global warming emissions.
"We are in a world with carbon restrictions," he said. “We have to make sure that investments and policies promote the fastest pathways to efficiency and lower carbon emissions. That is why I am excited to study a technology like this ”.
By Maxine Joselow
Article in English www.eenews.net.