Venkat Viswanathan and collaborators are developing powerful batteries that could power new eco-friendly planes

Venkat Viswanathan and his collaborator, MIT materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang, are developing a new battery specifically designed for an advanced hybrid plane. Their work was recently featured in an article in Swarajya magazine and in MIT Technology Review. Rather than focusing their efforts on developing improved materials, the pair are taking a different approach to reach their next goal, altering not the composition of the batteries but the alignment of the compounds within them. By applying magnetic forces to straighten the tortuous path that lithium ions navigate through the electrodes, the scientists believe, they could significantly boost the rate at which the device discharges electricity.

That shot of power could open up a use that has long eluded batteries: meeting the huge demands of a passenger aircraft at liftoff. If it works as hoped, it would enable regional commuter flights that don’t burn fuel or produce direct climate emissions.

Viswanathan initiated and is leading the research project. He and Chiang are now collaborating with 24M, the lithium-ion battery manufacturer Chiang cofounded in 2010, and Zunum Aero, an aircraft startup based in Bothell, Washington, to develop and test prototype batteries specifically designed for the needs of an advanced hybrid plane.

Written by James Temple.

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