Project turns on heat to find a better jet engine

Researchers at Sussex University have landed a £500,000 grant from the European Union to investigate the efficiency of aircraft jet engines.

The funding underpins a four-year project to look at how quickly jet engine components get hot, said Dr Peter Childs, reader in Mechanical Engineering in the Thermo-Fluid Mechanics Research Centre.

‘This project is principally to look at providing design methodologies to help predict temperatures within jet engines. Although the jet engine has been around for a long time, we’re still managing to develop the technology,’ he said.

The project will use the university’s Rolls-Royce gas turbine, which is the most powerful in any UK university.

The design methods will be based on collect heat transfer data from the experiments. The information on how heat from the engine’s operation flows through the turbine system will help researchers produce designs for a more efficient gas turbine. The life and integrity of jet engine components are limited because they rotate at high speed at temperatures well over 1,000°C.

Another objective of the project is to reduce fuel consumption. Research will focus on the air taken in through the front of the engine, some of which is diverted for cooling purposes. Reducing the air requirement for cooling will enable the engine to use more of the air intake in burning fuel and so run more efficiently.

Childs said: ‘If you’re saving on fuel it’s a win-win situation in terms of both cost and the environment.’

Because the project involves a number of other European Union member states’ universities and companies it has attracted overall funding of £1.6m under the EU’s ‘New Perspectives in Aeronautics’ programme.

The universities of Surrey, Aachen and Karlsruhe are also taking part, as well as companies such as Rolls-Royce, Volvo Aero Corporation, DaimlerChrysler and Siemens.

The project will contribute to the development of the new Rolls-Royce Trent 900 jet engine which will power the Airbus A380, due to enter service in 2006.