Around 100 people gathered in Alexandria, Virginia this week for a conference that could shape the future of electric flight.
Sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, the so-called ESS-1K Workshop focused on long-term energy storage solutions for planes, trains and ships. An extension of ARPA-E program director Halle Cheeseman’s Battery 1K initiative, it could lead to a three-year, roughly $40 million program to fund research into rechargeable batteries capable of delivering 1,000 Watt-hours per kilogram at the pack level — more than four times today’s state of the art, and such an outlandish goal that it is reasonable to doubt whether it’s even possible.
If it is possible, however, a 1,000 Wh/kg battery would be transformative for aviation, radically expanding the scope of battery electric flight. It wouldn’t eliminate the need for sustainable aviation fuels and/or hydrogen alternatives to meet net-zero goals, but it could dramatically revise assumptions about where those technologies would be best placed.
No one is expecting this miracle battery to arrive anytime soon, certainly not this decade. Yet, there are no theoretical barriers to the 1,000 Wh/kg goal, and multiple technology paths that could achieve it, either singly or in combination. Incremental improvement of existing lithium-ion battery technology is not one of them.
“As I’ve been on this journey these last 10 months, I’ve had to un-think what I thought I knew about electrochemical energy storage,” Cheeseman, whose career in batteries spans around four decades, said at the 2023 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in March. According to Cheeseman, transformational energy storage solutions aren’t just about thinking outside of the box. They could mean doing away with the box altogether.
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