What might revolutionize the energy industry in the future is already working on a mini scale. In an Airbus hangar on the outskirts of Munich, experts have now been presented with wireless power transmission using microwaves. Over a distance of 36 meters, electricity from solar cells was fed in on one side, converted into a microwave beam and transferred back into electricity on the receiving side in order to generate eco-hydrogen from it. Airbus announced that it would enter the future market of "power beaming".
The applications for wireless power transmission are diverse, said Jean-Dominique Coste, who is responsible for future technologies in the Airbus Blue Sky department. Coste presented a chart that could have come straight out of a sci-fi novel, but it's serious.
In space, at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers above the earth, a several kilometer large solar power station satellite is being set up, which will send energy to the earth via a microwave beam. In this way, cities, factories, households, but also airplanes, air taxis or drones can be supplied with energy.
Airbus will pursue the "power beaming" business field even if the topic of solar power plants in space is not approved at the forthcoming meeting of the ministers responsible for space travel at the European Space Agency ESA, Coste said. In November, a decision is to be made as to whether the chances of realizing solar power plants in space will be examined for 60 million euros over three years (Solaris project).
China in particular, but also the USA, Japan and Great Britain are already driving the development of this technology. Europe does not want to be left behind and is under pressure to have a carbon neutral economy by 2050. Green electricity from space could possibly help.
Airbus, on the other hand, likes to present itself as a pioneer for climate-neutral flying with electric and hydrogen engines. The aerospace group is very interested in all eco-technologies that help to say goodbye to fossil fuels. By 2035, Airbus plans to put a zero-emission hydrogen-powered aircraft into service. Practically the entire aviation industry is currently looking for the silver bullet to CO₂-free flying.
Airbus has now announced that it wants to work with Siemens Energy on power beaming technology. As manager Illiana Portugues explained to WELT on the sidelines of the event, a letter of intent was signed with Airbus. For Siemens Energy, the focus is initially on wireless power transmission using microwaves on Earth. After that, supplying aircraft from the ground is also conceivable.
The "Power Beaming" test setup now presented at Airbus was realized by the New Zealand start-up Emrod. Emrod has been working on the technology for around three years and has ambitious plans. A 200-metre-long test track was set up in New Zealand, but was damaged by a storm in the summer.
Emrod boss Greg Kushnir plans to have wireless power connections on Earth by 2025. By 2035, aircraft could then be powered either on the ground or in flight. The fuselage could be used as a receiving antenna, said Israeli-born Kushnir at the presentation.
Feeding electricity into an operational eco-plane could increase its range and reduce weight. Those responsible for Emrod and Airbus have repeatedly emphasized that the technology used to transmit electricity via microwaves is safe.
For example, Emrod wants to emit parallel laser beams around the microwave beam, which should detect when an object approaches the energy beam and then switch it off to be on the safe side. So-called lidar sensors are already being used in the development of autonomously driving cars to monitor the environment.
Emrod boss Kushnir compares the planned wireless power transmission with telephone and communication technology, in which everything was initially handled via telephone lines including copper cables until mobile communications were implemented. However, the technological hurdles are still huge, at least in the case of eco-power transmission via microwaves from space. Therefore, experts see first applications on Earth.
In order to set up a sunlight-eco-power plant in space with the same level of performance as a nuclear power plant block, the satellite structure with countless small solar panels would have a diameter of around two kilometers, it said at the Airbus presentation. Never before has such a huge structure been erected in space. However, according to a Roland Berger study, China, the USA and Great Britain are planning to implement this in the time window from 2040 to 2050.
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