Are Electric Jets Possible?

Chinese engineers claim they have built an electric jet engine. They claim the plasma engine, or microwave thruster, could lift 1,199 pounds (544 kilograms) with the power from a Tesla Model S battery.

A plasma engine uses high-frequency radio waves or microwaves to create super-hot plasma. Shooting the plasma out of a tube propels the engines at a high-speed. However, most plasma engines do not generate enough thrust to operate in an atmosphere.

Instead, they use plasma engines such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) VX-200 in spacecraft. They use gases such as xenon to propel most plasma engines.

Is it an Electric Jet?

A team of engineers claims to have built a microwave thruster that could work in Earth’s atmosphere, Interesting Engineering reports. The new plasma engine uses air and electricity to propel aircraft.

Hence, the engineers claim to build an electric jet. To explain, the microwave engine heats air to high temperatures and shoots it out the back of a tube to propel an aircraft. The engine sucks air into the tube, heats it with microwaves to create plasma, and pushes the air out the back for propulsion.

The engineers work at the Institute of Technical Sciences at Wuhan University in China. They revealed the engine in a May 2020 payer. To generate 2.45 pounds of thrust, the engine needs 400 watts of electricity.

Will Electric Jets Work?

Interesting Engineering claims the engine could generate 1,199 pounds (544 kilograms) of thrust with a 310 kilowatt Tesla Model S battery.

However, a Tesla Model S battery weighs 1,200 pounds or 540 kilograms. Hence, the battery could be too heavy for the jet to move. Consequently, they will need enormous advances in battery technology, or new means of generating electricity to make microwave thrusters possible.

One technology that could power electric jets is wireless power transfer. In wireless power power transfer they use magnetic induction to transmit electricity through the air like radio waves. The advantage of wireless electricity is that they could transfer electricity from power plants on the ground to jets in the air.

Wireless electricity transmission is an old idea. Nikola Tesla experimented with it and failed in the 1890s and early 1900s. Several companies, including New Zealand’s Emrod are experimenting with wireless electricity.

Another problem with electric jets is the high temperatures needed to create plasma. The microwave thruster heats air to temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius. Hence, the thruster could melt or set an aircraft on fire. Therefore, builders could need new materials to build a working electric jet.

Can Electric Jets Fight Climate Change?

The promise of electric jets is that they could offer fast and efficient air travel without the burning of fossil fuels.

Current jets burn enormous amounts of oil to achieve flight and high speeds. Aircraft emissions accounted for 9% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates. Fights originating at US airports account for almost 25% of global transport related carbon emissions.

Thus, jets without greenhouse gases could be possible. However, I think it will take years or decades of engineering and research to make an economical electric jet.

Will China Dominate the World Through Clean Tech?

Unfortunately, only the People’s Republic of China seems willing to invest the money and resources needed to develop such a jet technology. Therefore, China is leading in the gigantic clean energy business.

Bill Gates thinks clean energy technology could create eight to 10 Tesla-sized companies, an Alphabet (GOOGL) sized company, an Amazon (AMZN) sized company, and a Microsoft (MSFT) sized company, CNBC reports.

Tesla Motors (TSLA) had a market capitalization of $911.29 billion on 22 October 2021. Alphabet (GOOG) had a market cap of $1.842 trillion, Amazon had a market cap of $1.689 trillion, and Microsoft had a Market Cap of $2.321 trillion on 22 October 2021.

“There will be eight Teslas, 10 Teslas,” Gates said at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit. “And only one of them is, is well-known today.”

Therefore, China could dominate the world’s economy with clean tech. America needs far greater investments in clean tech. Unless we want to live in a Chinese world.