Electric Jet Engine that could Hopefully make Eco-friendly Air Travel Possible

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electric jet engine for eco-friendly air travel

This Electric Jet engine could make carbon-neutral air travel possible using Electricity as fuel

The automotive market is expected to be flooded with electric vehicles in the coming years (probably months). The technology and the scientific eyes are currently focussed on improving land travel using electricity; at least for the moment.

A real breakthrough, however, would be when this electric transportation is translated to air travel too. Let me explain – why?

When you travel on the ground, your vehicle is propelled through the action of rolling wheels. The engine (in gasoline-powered vehicles) or motor (in electric vehicles) transfer energy to the wheels that roll on the ground with applied torque.

The running vehicles on the ground have to confront only two main opposing forces – the friction and the drag. Drag is not quite significant at speeds that the normal passenger cars run at.

But the airplane is propelled differently. 

  • Aircraft travels much further as compared to vehicles running on the road. This means that air travel demands far more energy than an ordinary road trip. 
  • Aircraft must store all the energy onboard to move its mass for each flight. Using a heavy energy source therefore means more energy is required for a flight, which leads to extra mass, and so on.
  • An airplane that runs for 1500km with 140 passengers on board consumes about 30kg of kerosene per passenger. This translates to almost 1,000kg of batteries per passenger with the current battery technology.

Again, running a jet engine on electricity is far more challenging than running a simple short-range electric aircraft.

Image Credit: Mashable

The Innovation

Now, a team of researchers is a step closer to making this happen. They have created a prototype of an electric jet engine that can propel itself forward without the need for any fossil fuel.

In a conventional jet airplane, the engine sucks air in through its front, a compressor compresses it, and fuel is sprayed in and lit, producing burning gases and a forward thrust.

The electric plane is much simpler — batteries power an electric motor that spins a propeller. It’s more efficient but has the disadvantage of less thrust making them slower.

The new technology combines the advantages of electricity and the performance of existing jet engine technology.

Technology

The prototype of an electric jet engine, created by researchers from the Institute of Technological Sciences in China runs on the same principle as a normal jet engine with the only difference that instead of spraying fossil fuel over the compressed air, it ionizes the compressed air using microwaves. This in turn generates plasma that pushes the engine forward with the generated thrust.

Image Credit: eurekalert

The inspiration behind the development

The primary push for the team to build this all-new electric jet engine was the planet earth and its rather severe climate change situation.

They want to solve the global warming problems due to the usage of fossil fuel combustion engines that power cars, airplanes, and machinery.

The current state of development

The new jet engine prototype was able to lift a steel ball weighing 1 kg over a 24mm diameter quartz tube, which is where the high-pressure air is transformed into a jet of plasma. Using the prototype, the lifting force, and jet pressure at different settings of microwave power and the air-flow rate were measured.

Image Credit: aip.scitation.org

The most important thing that they demonstrated was given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines that depend on fossil fuels.

Conclusion

Plasma is a normal state of matter just like solids, liquids, and gases. It arises due to the ionization of molecules in high electric fields (such as in lightning) or at high temperatures (such as in the sun).

Plasma jet thrusters have also been used in aerospace applications for many years (mainly in spacecraft propulsion) But is not useful in the atmosphere environment where there is a lot of air friction.

But the newly built prototype based on plasma technology has demonstrated that propulsion forces and jet pressures comparable to that of a commercial jet engine can be achieved by scaling up the microwave power and the airflow.

Also read: Solar Panels that generate electricity without sunlight

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