Indiana University

IUPUI awarded $200,000 NASA grant for future aircraft engines study

  • May 21, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has received a one-year, $200,000 grant from the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute through its program of Leading Edge Aeronautics Research for NASA, or LEARN. The grant funds a collaborative project by IUPUI, Purdue University, Tuskegee University and Rolls Royce Corp. that explores innovative concepts for future airplane engines.

Responding to NASA’s call for early-stage highly innovative ideas with the potential to meet national aeronautics needs, the research team proposed a novel hybrid electric engine that would combine electric battery and motor drive with a highly fuel-efficient and compact combustion turbine engine.

Aircraft electrification could cut operating fuel cost and decrease the environmental impact by taking advantage of the shrinking size, weight and cost of electric battery storage and motor drives. Conventional turbine engines are designed to operate efficiently during cruise but often burn fuel inefficiently during taxing and idling at congested airports. Electric propulsion could provide a more energy-efficient solution for ground movements, just as electric cars are more efficient for city driving. To maximize fuel efficiency for medium-range aircraft, the benefits of electric propulsion would be combined with an innovative wave-rotor turbine engine invented at IUPUI. This engine merges the functions of a compressor, combustor and turbine found on today’s aircraft engines into a single rotating component, and offers significantly lower-fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is led by professor Razi Nalim, who worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center before founding the combustion and propulsion research laboratory at IUPUI. Nalim has continued his long-standing research collaboration with Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis. In the past decade, his team has demonstrated the design and operation of the novel wave rotor combustor, with funding from Rolls Royce, NASA and other sponsors.

The new NASA grant will fund research to evaluate the HyWREAP system -- hybrid wave-rotor electric aero-propulsion -- or using computer models, with the assistance of Purdue University and Tuskegee University. Rolls-Royce engineers will provide advice and expertise in engine design.

The HyWREAP target is a 90 percent reduction in fuel use for subsonic regional jets compared to current technology. The success of this technology will enable aircraft to be completely redesigned for electric propulsion. They would be recharged at airports with electricity, which could be generated from renewable sources, while carrying only a small amount of fuel.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to explore highly innovative ideas and further develop the HyWREAP program through proof-of-concept demonstrations,” Nalim said. “HyWREAP technology could enable air transport to reach unprecedented fuel savings and emissions cuts by optimally combining two energy sources.” The Leading Edge Aeronautics Research for NASA (LEARN) grant will support innovative research through two phases of study. The Phase 1 award is for one-year efforts to explore the overall viability and advance the concepts. A follow-on Phase 2 proposal call will later be released to eligible recipients of Phase I awards, past and present, to further develop the most promising Phase I concepts and explore potential infusion options within NASA and beyond. Phase II award amounts can be larger than Phase I awards and are for a period of performance of 12 to 18 months.

About the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI

The mission of the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI is to be one of the best urban university leaders in the disciplines of engineering and technology recognized locally, nationally and internationally. The school’s goal is to provide students an education that will give them the leverage to be leaders in their communities, industry and society.

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