Scientists in Wuhan, China claim to have created a carbon-neutral prototype jet engine which could one day allow for a new era in fossil-fuel free manned flight.
Their prototype engine compresses air and ionizes it with microwaves thus generating plasma which it expels out the back of the engine to generate thrust. Plasma is the fourth state of matter which usually only exists in the laboratory, the surface of the Sun or for brief instances during lightning strikes.
The proposed system differs from previous attempts at creating plasma jet thrusters as they relied on xenon plasma which cannot withstand the friction inherent in the Earth’s atmosphere. Simply put, they were not powerful enough.
Their proof-of-concept prototype launched a one-kilogram (2.2lb) steel ball 24mm (almost an inch) into the air. While not particularly impressive on face value, when scaled up, this would equal the same amount of thrust produced by a conventional, commercial jet engine.
“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,” lead researcher and Wuhan University engineer Jau Tang said in a press release.
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While there is still a long way to go from proof-of-concept to commercial deployment, the incentive for fossil fuel-free air travel is certainly there given that current commercial flight is responsible for 2.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (excluding global military aviation).
“There is no need for fossil fuel with our design, and therefore, there is no carbon emission to cause greenhouse effects and global warming,” Tang added.
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The researchers at the Institute of Technological Sciences at Wuhan University published their findings Tuesday in the journal AIP Advances. They successfully released the ground-breaking study despite enduring months of lockdown after the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan late last year.
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