As land-based travel is turning more and more toward electricity and away from fossil fuels, so may the days of carbon-neutral air travel be just around the corner for us. As fossil fuels are at the same time unsustainable and unsafe, new methods moving away from using them are needed.
Now, a team of researchers has created a prototype jet engine that's able to propel itself forward only by using electricity. No fossil fuels in sight.
Their study was published in AIP Advances on Tuesday.
Electric jet engines
The device, created by researchers from the Institute of Technological Sciences at Wuhan University in China, compresses air and ionizes it using microwaves. This then generates plasma that thrusts the engine forward.
This means that someday planes could only need electricity and the air around them in order to fly. The main push for the team to create this new type of engine was our planet and its rather dire climate change situation.
"The motivation of our work is to help solve the global warming problems owing to humans' use of fossil fuel combustion engines to power machinery, such as cars and airplanes," explained Jau Tang, lead researcher of the study and a professor at Wuhan University. "There is no need for fossil fuel with our design, and therefore, there is no carbon emission to cause greenhouse effects and global warming."
The prototype plasma jet device was able to lift a one-kilogram steel ball over a 24-millimeter diameter quartz cube, which is where the high-pressure air is transformed into a plasma jet thanks to passing through a microwave ionization chamber. To keep things in scale, this corresponds to the thrusting pressure comparable to a commercial plane jet engine.
Tang said "Our results demonstrated that such a jet engine based on microwave air plasma can be a potentially viable alternative to the conventional fossil fuel jet engine."
Air travel is part of the problem that leads to climate change, so this type of engine could assist in slowing down that change over the coming years.