Scientists from the Institute of Science and Technology at Wuhan University in China developed a prototype jet engine without using fossil fuels. It compresses the air and ionizes with microwaves, thus generating plasma that drives the engine. The problems caused by the use of fossil fuels motivated the work. The engine description was published in the magazine AIP Advances.
The professor at Wuhan University, Jau Tang, said that with the model developed by them there is no emission of pollutants that cause greenhouse effect and global warming. The method used is different from other attempts to create plasma jet propellers.
It Could Change Everything
There is a NASA probe that uses xenon plasma. But this alternative, according to the researchers, cannot overcome friction in the atmosphere and, therefore, is not powerful enough for air transport.
The propeller developed at Wuhan University generates high temperature and pressure for jet propulsion using air and electricity. Tang suggests that the device may, in the future, be produced in a size large enough to be used on commercial aircraft. The prototype managed to lift a 1 kg steel ball over a 24 mm diameter quartz tube. In scale, this is the same impulse as a conventional jet engine.
For a full-scale jet, you need to build a variety of these thrusters. Those involved in the research work to improve the efficiency of the device to achieve this goal. The authors believe that the engine is a potentially viable alternative, based on the results.
The Futurism website raises the question that if the Tang device were produced on a sufficient scale, a substantial amount of energy would be needed. This could put an end to the possibility of aerospace application, because fossil fuels store much more energy by weight than batteries.
Engineers have been thinking about plasma-powered spacecraft for some time, but attempts so far have encountered technological limitations. The works already developed could not be applied outside the laboratory.
Getting the device out of the lab and making it applicable requires a lot of money and time. That is why Tang’s intention is to demonstrate the merit of the device in the expectation that some well-funded organization will be inspired and segmented to the idea.
In addition to the question of the power source for the engine, there is the question of taking it by the aircraft to the device. With the technology available today, the way to generate enough power with little weight would be something like the compact nuclear fission reactor, but it has environmental and safety implications.
While other scientists have identified that research data is lacking and issues involving technology may prevent the lab’s prototype from moving to large-scale applications, they find the work interesting and hope it will work.