What It’ll Take to Get Electric Planes off the Ground

A few years ago, while driving on a stretch of interstate between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Venkat Viswanathan began to feel a little existential. His trip was going smoothly—almost too smoothly, he thought. He would hum along for a few hundred miles at a time, stopping briefly for meals or to take in the early summer scenery. It was the classic Great American road trip. And it was hardly remarkable at all that he was doing it in an electric car.

Viswanathan, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, is an expert in high-energy-density batteries—designs that are meant to pack a lot of juice into not a lot of space. At

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