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Eviation's all-electric plane (Eviation)

Commercial airlines and NASA are pushing U.S. researchers to take another stab at mastering a futuristic battery that will allow the use of all-electric passenger jets.

NASA has funded a battery project to power a regional, nine-passenger all-electric aircraft. It has pulled together a team including researchers from IBM, Cal Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University to resolve problems that have dogged lithium-air, a battery concept that, if figured out, could deliver energy density close to that of gasoline. The venture arms of Jet Blue and Airbus are also pushing the universities to figure out electric jets, said Venkat Viswanathan, a CMU professor who is a member of the NASA project.

Why it matters: NASA says a lithium-air propelled electric plane could reduce airliners' operating costs by 30%, plus reduce emissions. In addition, a lithium-air battery — if finally figured out — could eventually revolutionize cars, since they could travel 500 miles on a single charge.

Viswanathan tells Axios that the hurdles for lithium-air remain high, but that some factors make the NASA project easier than past efforts, in particular that airlines are prepared to pay much more for a battery than a car owner; and the battery won't require fast charging. "It's lithium air 2.0," he said. In a Nov. 30 presentation, NASA sketched out the project's ambitions and hurdles.

  • An example of the possibilities came at the Paris Air Show last week, where Eviation, an Israeli company, unveiled a concept jet that would fly 600 miles on a single charge. Eviation says it is using an aluminum air battery produced by the Israeli startup Phinenergy. While not as energetic as lithium air, a rechargable aluminum air battery — if truly optimized — would be an enormous breakthrough as well.
  • Eviation is promising to commercialize its aluminum air plane next year. But the battery and electric transportation space have been plagued by promises and forecasts not kept.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.