The future of aircraft: electric power
Bye Energy plans to develop an electric-powered system for aircraft and ultimately an electric-hybrid propulsion system for commercial application. The Greenwood Village-based company expects to begin making test or “proof-of-concept” flights of battery-powered aircraft in seven or eight months and have a marketable product in about two years.
CEO George Bye shared his company’s plans, dubbed “The Green Flight Project” (www.TheGreenFlightProject.aero), with about 50 people inside a Centennial Airport hangar. Making his point, he gestured toward a metal cylinder no bigger than a 10-gallon bucket and a battery pack about the size of a milk crate on display next to a two-seat airplane.
“In the automobile industry we’ve seen electric propulsion and hybrid propulsion in the last five or 10 years,” Bye said. “What we’re trying to do is take that same technology and apply it in its unique features to general aviation.”
The metal cylinder and rectangular box next to Bye were only mock-ups of an electric motor and battery, but he and his executive team, which includes former Cessna President Charlie Johnson as Bye Energy’s chief operating officer, say the only barrier to making electric-hybrid propulsion system commercially applicable is battery technology – and that is evolving at about the breakneck pace that the microchip once was, Bye said.
When they start test flights with an electric motor in seven to eight months, Bye and Johnson said they expect the battery to keep a two-seat plane in the air for an hour. Once batteries are able to extend flight time to two hours, Bye said the company can then incorporate hybrid designs, including photovoltaic cells atop aircraft wings, the ideal surface for such a power source, for which Bye Energy has partnered with Thornton-based Ascent Solar.
Formed in 2008, Bye Energy has made news for other forays into aviation and sustainability. The company was profiled by ColoradoBiz in March 2009 for its interest in developing fuels made from nonpolluting renewable sources http://www.cobizmag.com/articles/jet-stream-in-green/.
Johnson said that China and Germany already have electric-powered aircraft in development. “We want to be the first to bring it to market,” said the former Cessna president, who estimated the cost to consumers — presumably pilot/owners — at $40,000 to $50,000 when the system becomes available.
Noting that aircraft are the only remaining users of leaded fuel, Johnson said, “General aviation is a vital market that will benefit from the environmentally friendly, lower cost, more efficient and higher-performing aircraft.”