JetBlue Invests in Battery Developer for Electric Aircraft

Electric aviation got another vote of support from JetBlue Technology Ventures. The venture capital arm of its namesake airline is investing in a battery systems developer that could become a leader in powering the many electrified aircraft in development today. The world is moving towards more electrified-forms of travel, a shift that is not lost on JetBlue Technology Ventures. The venture capital arm of JetBlue Airways counts among its investments an electric air taxi startup, hydrogen fuel cell developer, and, now, a battery developer that could power the whole ecosystem.

JetBlue Technology Ventures participated in a $13 million fund raising round by Electric Power Systems. The company develops battery systems for primarily for the new propulsion systems
needed for electric aircraft but also for other transportation applications, including for cars, trucks, and boats. The scalability of those batteries will ultimately determine the success of all of
the electric air taxis or aircraft being pitched in the market because, without batteries, electric aviation would be stuck on the ground.

“The electrification of aviation will grow in importance as a method for reducing the carbon footprint of the industry as a whole,” said Amy Burr, the president of JetBlue Technology Ventures. Electric Power Systems “will play a key role in the development of electric aircraft.” Burr did not disclose how much JetBlue Technology Ventures invested in Electric Power Systems. However, she did say that the investment would benefit the airline with “favorable pricing for future battery purchases and charging units.”

The bet makes sense. The importance of reducing aviation carbon emissions took on new importance during the pandemic. Airbus and Embraer, heavyweights in commercial aircraft production, are either developing electric air taxis or backing companies that are. And the number of startups abounds, including Archer Aviation that is backed by United Airlines, Eviation, Joby Aviation backed by JetBlue Technology Ventures, and Vertical Aerospace with support from American Airlines.

And even the Securities and Exchange Commission is in the process of establishing new rules that will require all publicly-listed companies in the U.S. to disclose their carbon emissions.

Electric Power Systems is already well connected in the electric aviation space. The company has eight of its batteries in use in aviation today, and plans to have 12 by the end of the year, said founder Nathan Millecam. And those systems are being used by some of the very same startups that are on the leading edge of electric aircraft, including by Archer and Embraer. Millecam described Electric Power Systems’ aim as to provide a whole battery “ecosystem” for aviation, from the packs on aircraft to charging stations on the ground. This in turn is designed to keep costs low and provide rapid charges without degrading the life of the battery. Key to the entire proposition of electric aviation is designing a battery that can store a high amount of energy while with as little weight as possible. If a battery is too heavy, it makes an aircraft uneconomic compared to conventional fossil fuel-powered planes. This is why nearly all of the electric aircraft projects in development today are for small aircraft with limited range, or with seats for no more than 50 passengers and ranges of up to 500 miles. “Short range, all electric makes a lot of sense,” said  Millecam. “The further you get in range, a hybrid infrastructure looks very attractive.”

Timing is everything. While few expect electric aircraft, to be carrying revenue passengers in the near future, the batteries that could power them need to be ready sooner. Electric Power Systems targets certification of its battery system in early 2023 after which it will focus on scaling up production, said Millecam.

Of course no one can guarantee that Electric Power Systems will be the primary battery supplier — or even a significant one at that — in electric aviation. Millecam said the company has a “broad base” of customers but declined to comment further. The backing of blue-chip companies like Boeing and now JetBlue Technology Ventures does bode well for the company. “We believe that [Electric Power] Systems will continue to grow into a game-changing technology in electric aviation and our goal is to help make that a reality,” said Barr.

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