UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Leading a diverse, collaborative coalition that spans universities, industry and disciplines, Penn State has been awarded $8 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to chart the course for hybrid electric aircraft.
“This is a bold project that will explore the possibility of a safe, efficient and innovative path to reduce the fuel consumption and lower the carbon footprint of the aviation industry,” said Karen Thole, distinguished professor, mechanical engineering department head and the principal investigator.
The four-year project will focus on single and twin-aisle aircraft that carry 100 passengers or more, which the researchers say are well suited for hybrid propulsion.
However, it is not as simple as integrating a battery into a traditional, gas-powered propulsion system, according to Thole. The team will seek to reimagine the entire system, optimizing and re-designing the core of the gas turbine engine.
“With our collaborators, we will use all the knowledge surrounding these hybrid systems and find new ways to operate them with increased efficiency,” said Reid Berdanier, assistant research professor in mechanical engineering.
According to the researchers, Penn State, with its historic strengths in gas turbines, is pioneering the development and testing of concepts for small engine cores that are efficient and integrate well into the hybrid system. They will be using emerging technologies such as additive manufacturing, machine learning and cyber-physical modeling to forge these new frontiers in hybrid propulsion.
“The goal is to shrink the engine as much as possible,” Thole said. “In doing so, this brings up other technical issues, including how to manufacture the parts and how to improve efficiencies.”
Amrita Basak, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, explained using metal additive manufacturing (AM), commonly referred to as metal 3D printing, will be an enabling technology to reduce the size of the engine core.