Researchers study effects of volcanic ash on jet engines

Research being carried out at Leicester University could lead to a better understanding of the effects of volcanic ash on jet engines.

The study, being led jointly by Dr Hongbiao Dong and Dr Mike Branney, is using thermal analysis and X-ray computed tomography to analyse the temperature at which volcanic ash solidifies and melts.

The blades of aircraft engines operate at temperatures above their melting point and need a constant flow of cooling air blowing through tiny holes in the blades. The air floats onto the surface of the blades and forms a protective film that stops them reaching the same temperature as the combustion process of the engine.

Volcanic ash can reach a temperature of 2,000˚C in the engine, and will melt. If it is sucked into the tiny holes in engine blades the melted ash solidifies to a layer of glass and blocks the ventilation holes, and the engine will fail because the blades then melt.

Dong and Branney are working with two contrasting types of volcanic ash, measuring their melting temperature in a differential scanning calorimeter. They then study its morphology using X-ray computed tomography.

Volcanoes erupt frequently in Iceland and at other locations around the world, and the impact of ash on aviation can be considerable, depending on whether winds carry the ash across flight paths and airports.

The instrumentation used in this research is part of a new £1m engineering centre, MaTIC, that works with industry to drive innovation in materials technology.