China's CATL Reveals Energy-Dense Battery For Passenger Planes

For a long time, the notion of battery-powered commercial planes and the use of electricity for aircraft propulsion sounded like a ridiculous concept. Given the limitations of current battery technology — and the sheer amount of energy needed to put a large flying object in the sky — these assumptions weren't entirely unfounded. However, recent advancements in battery technology combined with the overall zeal on the part of researchers and scientists to reduce the environmental effects of aviation meant that several companies persisted with the idea of battery-powered planes. 

In a major fillip to the future of electric passenger planes, the world's largest battery maker CATL recently unveiled a new condensed battery that could power the first generation of commercial all-electric passenger planes. The major highlight of CATL's new condensed battery is its claimed energy density of 500 Wh/kg (2.2 lb).

To understand how significant an improvement this really is, it is crucial to realize that CATL's Qilin cells, which claimed the highest integration efficiency in the world until recently, promised an energy density of 255Wh/kg when they were launched in 2022. Essentially, CATL has managed to double Qilin's figures in less than a year, an impressive achievement any way one looks at it. What is even more impressive is that CATL expects to begin mass production of these new energy-dense batteries in the near future, thereby advancing the possibility of commercial all-electric passenger aircraft by several years.

The final push toward all-electric planes?

Last year was an important time for all-electric, battery-powered planes, given that the year witnessed the flight of Alice, the world's first all-electric passenger jet. While the aircraft was airborne for just eight minutes, reaching a peak altitude of 3,500 feet, the maker of Alice — Eviation — says that the aircraft is designed with a range of 250 miles.

While it is unclear whether Eviation is in talks with CATL for using these new batteries on its planes, CATL has already claimed that it is working with several electric plane makers to ensure the product meets all necessary aviation-level quality standards. Given that CATL intends to produce these new 500 Wh/kg batteries "shortly," we can expect the first of the electric planes powered by these batteries to take to the skies in the next couple of years.

To make things even more interesting, CATL has also confirmed that it is working on an automotive-grade version of these condensed batteries. If the company's plan to make it to mass production before the end of 2023 succeeds, range anxiety on all-electric cars might become a thing of the past. CATL is currently the world's largest maker of EV batteries and supplies its products to brands like Tesla, Volkswagen, and China's BAIC, and Geely group of automobile companies.