It’s plain to see that electric vehicles are the future, but there’s more to making that change happen than swapping out a gas motor for a battery-powered one — especially in aircraft. H3X is a startup that aims to accelerate that future with a reimagined, completely integrated electric motor that it claims outperforms everything on the market. The small founding team — CEO Jason Sylvestre, CTO Max Liben, and COO Eric Maciolek — met in college while participating in an electric vehicle building and racing program. After stints in the tech and automobile industry (including at Tesla and SpaceX), the crew came back together when they saw that the Department of Energy was offering a bounty for improved high power density electric motors.
“The problem was uniquely suited to our abilities and passions too — we’re excited about this stuff. We care about decarbonization of the different transit sectors, and aviation is going to become a growing part of the global carbon footprint over the next few decades as electric improves ground vehicles,” said Liben. “We just kinda decided to take a leap of faith and applied to Y Combinator.”
Electric flight isn’t so much a wild idea as one that’s in its early, awkward stages. Lightweight craft like drones can do a great deal with the batteries and motors available, and converted small aircraft like seaplanes can make short flights, but that’s about the limit with the way things are today.
The problem is primarily a simple lack of power: The energy required to propel an aircraft fast enough to generate lift grows exponentially as the size and mass of the plane increase. A handful of kilowatt-hours will serve for a drone, and a few EV-scale batteries will work for a light aircraft, but beyond that, the energy required to take flight requires batteries, the bulk and weight of which make flight impractical.