Flight to sustainable aircraft possible with $ 1.5 million grant from NASA

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– In their latest effort to advance sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint of commercial aircraft, researchers at Penn State’s Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine Laboratory, known as START Lab, have received funding from $ 1.5 million from NASA through collaborations with Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies.

The agency created the program, Thermally efficient hybrid core, or HyTEC, accelerate the development and adoption of advanced gas turbines through smaller, more efficient engine cores. Gas turbine engines currently power almost all airplanes using fossil fuels. As a result, air transport accounts for between 2% and 2.5% of all global carbon emissions, depending on the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

“The big picture is that we want to have a meaningful impact by reducing the carbon footprint of aviation,” said Karen A. Thole, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

In collaboration with Pratt & Whitney, the three-year project will focus on reducing the size of the engine core for single-aisle aircraft, which could allow the adoption of hybrid-electric propulsion systems.

“Reducing the size of the core reduces weight and reduces the fuel needed to power it. It also allows the introduction of electric batteries to provide additional power, ”said Michael Barringer, associate research professor in mechanical engineering.

Thole explained that with the current state of technology, batteries would be too heavy to only power airplanes.

“Planes couldn’t take off with batteries,” she said.

This is why the START Lab is a pioneer in the development of gasoline engines redesigned to work in harmony with electric batteries. In this project, researchers will focus on advanced cooling and aerodynamics to enable smaller engines.

The team will use additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, to test different designs of turbine blades in order to pursue this goal. Thole explained that it takes about three years to create traditionally made blades.

“With 3D printing, that time frame could be reduced to three months,” said Scott Fishbone, project manager for the START Lab.

“We want to create and test completely new and ambitious designs in a short period of time,” Thole said. “Using 3D printing, where Penn State has exceptional capabilities, is a huge opportunity to do so. ”

The START Lab has regularly integrated 3D printing into its work for over eight years. Researchers at the lab previously received funding from National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Ministry of Energy and the Federal Aviation Administration, continued decline in energy, emissions and noise program to meet these challenges.

“Our previous projects have really laid the groundwork for HyTEC,” said Reid Berdanier, assistant research professor in mechanical engineering, “We have the knowledge base and the facilities to use the technology in turbine cooling and transfer. heat.”

With this new funding from NASA, the START Lab will also train the next generation of undergraduate and graduate engineers who will enter industry and academia with the skills and mindset to have a positive impact on the environment.

“We’re making sure our future workforce is ready to tackle these issues,” Thole said. “Our students will have the hands-on experience they need to be forward-thinking engineers capable of creating more sustainable aviation systems.”

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