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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

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From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.