Electric propulsion technology can potentially make air transport cheaper, quieter, safer and more environmentally friendly, according to one of the co-founders of Solar Impulse, a company that is exploring the potential use solar-powered airplanes for travel.
André Borschberg, chief executive and pilot at the Switzerland-based company, spoke to CNBC on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual June meeting in Dalian. He pointed to drones as an example of the potential the technology holds for the aviation industry. Consumer drones use electric motors to power the propellers that make them airborne.
“You can already see the small drones (are) more stable in turbulent air than very expensive helicopters,” he said. “You can think about applying these technologies to airplanes as well.”
“This technology, electric propulsion, will change the world of aviation,” he said.
Borschberg, along with Solar Impulse chairman and pilot Bertrand Piccard, developed two solar-powered airplanes that are able to fly day and night without fuel. Last year, Solar Impulse 2 made a record-breaking round-the-world trip that set new levels for what clean technology can achieve.
Earlier this year, Borschberg co-founded H55 to further expand the potential of electric propulsion. The company is a spin-off of Solar Impulse and develops and sells electric propulsion technologies to aircraft manufacturers.
“I started a new company based on basically the technologies we developed, the know-how we have, (and) with the engineers that we have at Solar Impulse. The goal is to develop solutions for this electric propulsion world which is slowly emerging” he said.
H55 focuses on the entire propulsion chain, from the energy source and its management, to thrust and power. It also looks at pilot interface and all control systems. Its electric demonstrator aircraft has successfully flown more than 50 hours with a battery endurance exceeding more than one hour, the company said on its website.