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Solar Energy, the future of aviation?

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At nearly 600 miles per hour, today’s planes can transport hundreds of people from point A to point B. In the early twentieth century, the Wright Brothers flew a single-person glider for the first time. Today’s planes are massive structures capable of transporting hundreds of thousands of passengers at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour. 

Effects of Modern Aviation

In 2015, Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered single-seat aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747, became the first solar aeroplane to traverse an ocean using just solar power, flying from Japan to Hawaii. Solar cells cover its wings, which harvest the sun’s energy. At a top speed of 43 mph, this is adequate to carry roughly two tonnes of weight, including a single passenger. 

A solar-powered aircraft is powered entirely by the sun. It produces no toxic exhaust gases, does not pollute the atmosphere, and is environmentally benign. However, when compared to a Boeing 747-400 that can transport 400 passengers at 570 mph, it leaves something to be desired. Before a solar aircraft can be utilised economically, significant progress must be made.

For individuals who fly recreationally, solar-powered planes may be a wonderful idea, but are they better than jet-fueled planes? For people who need to go from one side of the planet to the other, the traditional jet-fueled plane is still the better option on account of economies of scale and time.

Advances in Aircraft Design

NASA and Boeing are collaborating on the next-generation plane’s wing design. Longer, thinner wings supported by a truss could reduce fuel consumption by up to 50%. However, modifying the entire design poses a significant risk, especially if it proves to be incorrect, therefore it’s unlikely to be seen anytime soon.

By 2050, low-carbon biofuels might replace up to 30% of aviation fuel. Cellulosic biomass — grasses and inedible plant parts – or algae are likely to be used as the fuel. Biofuels are still expensive, costing about three to four times as much as jet fuel, though this price may fall as production increases.

In conclusion

Solar-powered planes may not represent the future of commercial aviation; instead, redesigned planes that run on cleaner fuels are more likely to win. But only time will tell if it has a place in recreational flight. At the end of the year, the world’s first solar-powered plane will take to the skies.

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