Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Kyushu University begins development of electric aircraft, flying cars

An artist's rendering of an electric powered plane that it is hoped will help reduce CO2 emissions worldwide. (Image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

FUKUOKA -- Kyushu University has begun research and development into using its world-class superconductive technology to create the next-generation of aircraft: electric fuelled planes and flying cars.

The center for the advancement of electric propelled flight opened at the university's Ito Campus in April 2019 in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, west Japan. The team aims to send a test craft into the skies within 10 years.

With global warming continuing unabated and demand for flights increasing worldwide, reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is imperative. The U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has resolved for member states to cut CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050. But according to Kyushu University, modern jet engines' fuel efficiency has already been optimized almost to its limit.

So attention has turned to electrification. Instead of the fossil fuel powered engines used until now, a fan propelled by an electric motor would provide the driving force to lift a plane into the air, drastically reducing its CO2 emissions. Several countries are trying to develop the technology, but Kyushu University aims to be a step ahead of the pack with its superconductive technology.

Superconductivity is a phenomenon in which certain materials, superconductors, emit no electrical resistance when brought below a specific temperature, causing its electric charge to flow unimpeded. Since the technology can substantially reduce the size of electric devices while increasing output, it is suitable for aircraft that need to be light while using high propulsive force.

In the flow of electricity, resistance can be reduced to zero only with direct current because its voltage remains the same. However, Kyushu University's research on superconductivity dating back to the 1960s has yielded world-class technology to reduce resistance with alternating current -- whose voltage periodically changes -- to a level near zero.

Using this technology, the facility intends to create a system comprising a lightweight, powerful superconductive motor and generator to propel the next generation of flight.

Electric aircraft engines use the same system of electricity to create propulsive force as that required by flying cars. The project is therefore expected to lead to the development of a flying car. Development of a 3-D motion control system and other tests would be necessary, but if made a reality, the university hopes the vehicle would help eliminate road maintenance costs and spark a revolutionary change in modern infrastructure.

Commenting on the development, Masataka Iwakuma, head of the center for the advancement of electric propelled flight told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We're going to use Kyushu University's technological strength to continue to develop a system that won't lose to anything coming out of Europe or America."

(Japanese original by Kenta Somatani, Kyushu News Department)

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media