NASA has developed a groundbreaking solid-state sulfur selenium battery. This battery has the potential to transform air travel by providing electricity to power planes rather than gas.

Airplanes consume substantial amounts of fuel to achieve and maintain flight. This leads to the release of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

In the United States, commercial air travel alone contributes to 10% of transportation emissions and 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to Yahoo.

Why electric planes haven’t taken off

While electric airplanes do exist, they’re limited in terms of speed and flight time compared to those powered by conventional combustion engines.

The reason lies in the fact that electric batteries have lower energy density. This means that they store less energy per pound compared to gas.

Up until recently, the most robust batteries could only achieve an energy density of 250 watt-hours per kilogram (approximately 113 watt-hours per pound). A battery needs to have an energy density of around 500 watt-hours per kilogram (roughly 363 watt-hours per pound) for takeoff.

NASA’s groundbreaking research

NASA has been working diligently on the Solid-state Architecture Batteries for Enhanced Rechargability and Safety (SABERS) project to develop a high-power battery suitable for aircraft use. Solid-state batteries, unlike conventional ones, maintain their solid structure even when damaged, eliminating the risk of fire.

The newly introduced sulfur selenium prototype battery by NASA not only offers improved safety compared to lithium-ion batteries but also exhibits higher power capabilities.

NASA’s new solid-state battery boasts an energy density of 500 watt-hours per kilogram (around 227 watt-hours per pound).Therefore, it reaches the threshold for viable electric flight.

The rapid energy release of a plane in takeoff can lead to temperature spikes. However, the NASA researchers discovered that the sulfur selenium battery can withstand temperatures twice as hot as those tolerated by lithium-ion batteries.

Additionally, the research team managed to reduce the weight of their batteries by 40% from the beginning of their research. The reduction in size allows for the installation of more batteries, ultimately enhancing the fuel capacity of electric airplanes.

CATL’s solid-state batteries

NASA is not the only organization working to develop solid-state batteries for airplanes. In April, CATL announced that it had developed a 500 watt-hours per kilogram solid-state battery that could be used in both airplanes and cars.

At the time, CATL said that it would start mass-producing its battery by the end of 2023. There has been no recent news about whether CATL has achieved this goal.


Even if CATL’s batteries start rolling off the assembly line soon, it will still be quite some time before we witness solid-state batteries powering airplanes.

Any new airplane part that’s intended for commercial flights must undergo rigorous testing before receiving approval.

Nevertheless, solid-state batteries represent an exhilarating breakthrough in energy storage. They have the potential to transform air travel in the years to come.

Image Source: Two Bit da Vinci,