CAFE Symposium Glimpses The Future Of Flight

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It isn't quite a flux capacitor, but Jonathan Trent, a marine biologist, is working with NASA to create biofuels using the effluent pumped out of wastewater treatment plants. Trent detailed his latest research at the fourth annual Electric Aircraft Symposium, in Santa Rosa, Calif., organized by the CAFE Foundation. His system uses energy from the sun to operate, and cleans the water while growing algae that can be used for fuel. The several hundred participants at the event also heard about advances in battery technology from Eva Hakansson, who together with her husband, Bill Dube, built the world's fastest electric motorcycle. They are now working on a two-wheeled electric-powered vehicle they hope will go 400 mph. Improving the energy density of batteries -- how much power they can deliver per unit of weight -- is at the core of advancing electric flight, according to EAA.

Participants at the symposium discussed both progress and problems encountered over the last year. "There is a ground-swell of activity in the area of electric flight," said EAA's Ron Wagner. "We live in exciting times." Topics on the agenda included nanotechnology, which is seen as a promising source of advances in batteries, and hybrid power, perhaps combining an internal combustion engine for takeoff and climb and switching to electric power for cruise flight. EAA will highlight electronic aircraft advances at AirVenture Oshkosh later this summer, with daily showcase flights, displays, and forums in AirVenture's Aviation Learning Center.