WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Aircraft today burn huge amounts of fossil fuels that pollute the world, this latest breakthrough would make them zero emissions.
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Today’s planes fly by burning huge amounts of polluting jet fuel and emitting toxic greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. But tomorrow’s planes will be battery powered and electric, some could even be Ion powered, albeit far fetched. Now though future planes might have another option – one that up until now, like NASA’s “impossible” EM engine I wrote about a while ago that could power rockets in space without needing to use any fuel, is supposed to be “impossible” and runs on nothing more than electricity and air – no fuel required.
The breakthrough comes courtesy of a professor from Wuhan University in China who has designed a revolutionary new type of microwave jet plasma engine that generates thrusting pressure using only air and electricity.
It’s a small but ground breaking trial
In a press release, lead researcher and Wuhan University professor, Jau Tang said: “The motivation of our work is to help solve the global warming problems owing to humans’ use of fossil fuel combustion engines to power machineries, such as cars and airplanes.”
The researchers described their engine in the journal AIP Advances.
Plasma is the fourth state of matter — aside from solid, liquid, and gases. It consists of an aggregate of charged ions and exists naturally on the Sun’s surface and in flashes of lightning.
However, it’s also possible to create plasma, which was exactly what the researchers did. The team compressed air into high pressures and used a microwave to ionize the pressurized air stream, and the result was a plasma jet thruster.
If you’ve heard about plasma engines it might be bause you’ve heard about NASA‘s Dawn space probe which uses one, however, these previous versions use xenon plasma, which can’t overcome the friction in Earth’s atmosphere so, as a result, as great as they are they’re simply not suitable for commercial aircraft applications.
Meanwhile, back on Earth though, the new jet thruster generates high-temperature and high pressurized plasma using only injected air and electricity.
“I think the jet engine is more efficient than the electric motor. You can drive a car at much faster speeds. That’s what I have in mind: to combine the plasma jet engine with a turbine to drive a car,” says Tang.
In a test the teams prototype managed to launch a one kilogram steel ball 24 millimeters into the air and that level of thrust, to scale, is the equivalent to a commercial airplane jet engines, which makes the latest announcement so interesting and newsworthy.
That said though there’s obviously a long way to go still before you see a plane powered by one of these revolutionary new engines, but were there’s a prototype there’s a way.