BRIEF: Where Are the Electric Airplanes?

One of the biggest challenges for building long-haul electric trucks is optimizing the balance between how far trucks can go on a single battery charge and the maximum amount of cargo they can carry. Heavier battery packs will take you farther, but they will eat into the truck’s maximum payload, said Venkat Viswanathan. An engineer from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and an expert on battery-operated vehicles, Viswanathan spoke about their feasibility during a presentation this week at the American Physical Society March Meeting in Los Angeles.

According to Viswanathan’s own analysis published last year, the practical range for such a truck is around 500 to 600 miles, or about half of the range of an average diesel truck. Musk’s plan to produce electric semis with a 300 to 500-mile range fits in this ballpark. However, future batteries with a higher energy density — meaning they could store more energy per weight — could increase that range dramatically.