Energy Storage Takes Flight: Rolls-Royce Invests In ESS

Energy storage is taking flight. We’ve focused a lot of attention on energy storage, but most of that attention has looked at how the technology will be implemented at grid scale or as a part of a microgrid. But some companies are aiming much, much higher. 

Energy storage will be a key component of the energy transition. Indeed, many believe that regardless of the renewable energy source, or combination of sources, energy storage will be the shared factor in allowing those sustainable energy sources to replace fossil fuels effectively in the near term. Much of the investment of energy storage has therefore been focused on large projects that accentuate grid-scale transition or play a role in a single facility’s load-shedding. 

But one of the most exciting parts of the evolving world of energy is seeing where these technologies will land next, and in the case of Rolls-Royce, it will be taking off, too. Last week, Rolls-Royce announced plans to invest $110 million in developing energy storage for aircraft. According to the announcement, the investment will primarily support commuter-sized aircraft of 19 passengers or less to travel 100 miles on a single charge. 

This isn’t a new direction for a company best known, and rightfully so, as a luxury car brand. They’ve ten different aerospace-specific battery systems and have played a role in designing and implementing state-of-the-art cells that have already flown in a number of settings. As you might guess, the major hurdle for effective ESS in flight are size, weight, and heat. Rolls-Royce has key partners in Europe, focused mainly in Germany and the UK, that are working to design and improve ESS for aerospace, an industry that Rolls-Royce is looking to expand its presence in over the next ten years. 

By 2035, the company hopes to integrate over 5 million battery cells per year into modular systems, a plan that will build the groundwork to eventually convert aircraft of all sizes over to electricity. 

That timeline is doable, but designers must overcome plenty of hurdles before the transition to electric planes is complete. One is simply power; jet fuel is 40-50 times more than even the top lithium-ion battery. That means 40-50 times the weight of the battery, a load that simply doesn’t make sense. In the interim, the most likely bridge between fossil fuels and electricity will be combining the two to create a hybrid system, using traditional fuel for take-off and ascent and switching to electricity to power or support flight once cruising altitude has been achieved.

Energy storage in this application plays a larger role, too. The benefits and breakthroughs of improving capacity, reducing size and weight, and other advancements can support ESS in other industries and applications, from EVs to eBikes to powering your local office building. 

What can energy storage do for your company today? Let us show you. Contact Keen today to learn more!