Thursday, 21 May 2009

Surprise innovation could cut 20% off aircraft carbon emissions

The UK aviation industry has previously announced targets to reduce emissions per passenger km by 50% by 2020. Part of these savings will be made from lighter aircraft and improvements in engine and fuel efficiency. However, friction is also a major factor in fuel consumption during flights.

New research could minimise the time aircraft spend waiting for take-off. Photo courtesy of National Air Traffic Services Ltd

Photo credit: National Air Traffic Services Ltd

Engineers have known for some time that tiny ridges known as ‘riblets’ - like those found on sharks bodies - can reduce skin-friction drag, (a major portion of mid-flight drag), by around 5%. But the latest innovation, a micro-jet system being developed by Dr Duncan Lockerby and his colleagues at the University of Warwick, could reduce skin-friction drag by up to 40%.

The new approach uses tiny air powered jets which redirect the air making it flow sideways back and forth over the wing. Dr Lockerby said: “This has come as a bit of a surprise to all of us in the aerodynamics community. It was discovered, essentially, by waggling a piece of wing from side to side in a wind tunnel.”

“The truth is we’re not exactly sure why this technology reduces drag but with the pressure of climate change we can’t afford to wait around to find out. So we are pushing ahead with prototypes and have a separate three year project to look more carefully at the physics behind it.”

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