Goals of the project
The intent of this project was to develop a better way of burning fuel in jet engines. Plasma has long been known to science for its value in effecting chemical reactions at the molecular level, in jet engines this can be used to stabilize flames under a wide variety of marginal combustion conditions thereby allowing reduced emissions and fuel burn. At the molecular level the effect of plasma on combustion can be explained simply with a LEGO analogy: If someone asked you to build a model car out of LEGOs and gave you all the pieces stuck together as one block, logically you would have to break apart the large block at the expense of time and energy before building something new. Similarly, in a combustion reaction the large fuel molecules must be broken down through hundreds of chemical reactions. Plasma provides the ability to bypass these reactions thereby solve many important challenges to lean combustion. Although plasma assisted combustion phenomena is not something which is in itself novel, the goal of this project was to develop the best way of utilizing this phenomenon to decrease emissions and fuel burn in jet engines in the form of a commercially viable product for LDI and LPP combustors ( lean direct injection, and lean premixed prevaporized respectively)
Nature of the Collaboration
Manufacturing, finite element analysis, machining, electronic circuit design, thermal and fluid design, CAD. Basically in designing a new fuel injector for jet engines I had to incorporate knowledge of fluid dynamics and reacting flows as well as plasma physics, model this with various computer programs and then prepare it for additive manufacturing. After part acceptance a testing protocol for initial design validation was carried out. This included building a laboratory scale combustor.
3D printer (used to produce prototype)
Laser Cutter, used to create enclosure for electronics.
Initially, this project started as a high school science fair project proving the concept in a Bunsen burner run in my garage with a propane tank from a Barbeque grill. As I gathered data and learned more about combustion and jet engines I incrementally refined the product until the point at which it is today.
The second proof of concept prototype ( following the first proof of concept prototype from my high school science fair project in 2011 ) was first produced in December of 2013 and first run in January of 2014. With this data, the third generation prototype was first conceived in February of this year and first run in September.
While some of the challenges encountered cannot be disclosed as they are the subject of pending patents, I learned a great deal about sizing up customer requirements and doing market research before developing a new product. I also learned that there will inevitably be problems of both a technical and a nontechnical nature and there will be plenty of people telling you it can’t be done. It’s important to listen to everybody’s input but if you listen to everybody telling you it can’t be done, you will never get anything done. It is important to have confidence in your idea/technology so that you can press on and find creative solutions when everybody else has given up. Additionally, this confidence in your technology must stem from a firm scientific foundation as well as a solid understanding of the market.
A viable plasma assisted fuel injector LDI and LPP was designed, produced through rapid prototyping and tested. Through testing it was discovered that a flame could be sustained with 56% less methane using plasma, this could potentially translate to fuel savings of 1-10% for operators ( such as airlines or land based gas turbine power plants) adopting our technology.
Innovations, impact and successes
The major innovations are the subject of pending patent filings and thus will not be disclosed here. But we believe that are technology has the potential to enable lean combustion over a wide range of operating conditions, thereby decreasing emissions (especially NOx emissions) as well as fuel consumption while mitigating combustion instabilities.
We are currently seeking an OEM partner to help us commercialize this technology.