Why Electric Plasma Jet Engines Are Future?: Imagine a future where you pay less than half of what you pay now for flights. A world with close to zero weather-related catastrophe due to global warming. With the advent of the electric plasma jet engine, that future is looking more possible than ever. One question though? what exactly is a plasma jet engine and how does it work?
The aviation industry lies amongst the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions leading to the global climate. It is responsible for almost 2.4% of carbon monoxide emissions and emitting other harmful gases in the atmosphere; this ratio can go up as air travel grows.
A diverse array of leading international voices encourage the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to renew and adopt new policies and measures to slash the industry’s skyrocketing emissions and bound the climate crisis’s adverse effects.
The good news is that a fully electric plasma engine can solve these problems. There are four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma is an electrically conducting medium consisting of almost equal numbers of positively and negatively charged particles produced during the ionization of atoms in a gas.
The electrons carry the negative charge and, each of which has one unit of negative charge. Atoms and molecules carry the positive charge that is missing the same electrons.
Scientifically it is also possible that electrons missing from one type of atom or molecule become attached to another component; this way, the plasma contains both positive and negative ions; this is a very rare but interesting phenomenon.
This state also resembles gas, but all their properties are not the same. It lacks a fixed volume and shape like gas, but plasma can conduct electricity and respond to a magnetic field because of its electrically charged ions.
Another interesting property of plasma is that it glows when it comes in contact with electricity. All the visible matter in the universe occurs in the plasma state and makes up most of the universe; the sun, stars, interplanetary, and interstellar spaces live in a plasma state.
Naturally, plasma is also present in the northern and southern lights and lightning. Some lamps and TV screens contain human-made plasma. NASA has used artificially created plasma for various activities in space.
Like the Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs) are high-specific-impulse, with low-power electric thrusters. It contains two electrodes located close to the propellant. The thruster’s power supply charges an energy supply unit (ESU) in parallel with the electrodes.
NASA aircraft have used this technology for altitude control, precision spacecraft control, and to perform low-thrust maneuvers. The high specific impulse of the plasma-based pulsed thrusters provides mission benefits and reduces harmful emissions.
It has very low fuel consumption and produces thrust and high velocities. Russia was the first country to launch its PPT into space in 1964; later, in 1968, the United States launched its PPT system aboard the LES- 6 satellite.
Less fuel is required to keep the satellite in orbit as compared to other technologies like chemical propulsion. This technology reduces costs and enhances the operational life of satellites. NASA’s DS1 or Deep Space 1 mission was launched in 1998 and lasted till 2001.
The DS1 was a flyby spacecraft, and it successfully passed its primary mission goals and was also able to fly by the asteroid 9969 Braille and comet Borrelly. This mission was successful, and it created new horizons for the future of ion-propelled spacecraft missions.
Deep Space 1 also holds the record for being the first interplanetary spacecraft to use an ion engine, and it heralded a new era of ion-propelled spacecraft. Later NASA launched a new mission in 2007and the DAWN space probe used the same technology ( NSTAR technology) to reach elusive space objects like comets and asteroids.
The up-gradation of ion thrust technology is an important factor for the scientific space sector. NASA’s revolutionary XENON thruster’s power is three times that of an NSTAR and is called NEXT. It aims to cut extra costs, reduce emissions, and avail better results.
The annular engine is another ongoing project aiming to perform even better than NEXT and maximize the exploration rate of space missions. The main difference between a NASA spacecraft propulsion system and airplane propulsion is the scale and the method behind producing plasma.
Spacecraft uses XENON to produce plasma. The proposed plans for how aircraft would use this technology are different: the new technology uses electricity and injected air to make the plasma. The propulsion forces used in space are small and not powerful enough to support an aircraft.
It is impossible to use the XENON plasma technology to resist air friction on earth. The electric plasma engine concept is that electricity will convert directly into thrust by utilizing microwaves to generate energy from compressed air that turns into plasma propulsion.
This technology is in the early stages. If scaled up to support an airplane, it will bring positive changes to the world and control the global climate emergency.
Researchers in China from the Institute of Technological Sciences at Wuhan University have proposed a prototype device and published a research paper that explains the use of microwave air plasmas for jet propulsion.
It is indeed a visionary and revolutionary idea that could replace fossil fuel combustion engines soon. This device consists of an air compressor, microwave power supply, a compressed microwave waveguide, and a flame ignitor.
The team used a plasma jet by compressing air and using a microwave to ionize the pressured air stream. Another article published by the American Institute of Physics Advances also refers to a similar prototype design of a propulsion thruster that solely relies on air plasma induced by microwave ionization.
The experimental setup consists of a magnetron, a circulator, a flattened waveguide, an ignitor, and a quartz tube. The prototype suggests that a jet engine uses only air and electricity to produce high temperatures for jet propulsion followed by a pressurized plasma at a specific setting.
During the experiment, they used a homemade device to measure the lifting force and jet pressure at different microwave power settings and various airflow rates.
During the observation, they noticed that given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is similar to that of a conventional airplane jet engine driven by fossil fuels. It leads to the fact that such a carbon-emission-free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.
The prototype can generate 10 N of thrust at 400 W using 0.51/s while keeping the airflow in mind; this is a constructive achievement by the team. The article also states that microwave power and airflow have a significant influence on plasma jet propulsion.
The device should utilize microwave air plasma for jet propulsion as a viable engine. The team used a hollow steel ball to determine the temperatures at higher rates where a conventional pressure meter can easily get damaged.
Therefore, with a combination of high-power microwave sources or an array of multiple microwave sources in parallel operation, it is possible to construct a high-microwave air plasma jet thruster using materials resistant to high temperature and pressure.
The study also mentions the need for further research on the impact of high temperature on equipment and methods to evaluate the driving forces. The data from both prototypes and research about the propulsion forces suggest that they are similar to those found on a conventional jet engine.
The conventional jet engine utilizes outside air by taking it in with the help of a fan; as it travels down and reaches the compressor, the pressure automatically goes up. The compressed air mixes with fuel and is instantly lit with an electric spark in the next step.
The increase in temperature increases the size of the nozzle at the back of the engine. The rotation of turbines is also dependent on the hot air, and this process helps to thrust the airplane at high speed and maintain a stable position in the air.
In the turbojet engine, the air temperature mixed with large amounts of fuels ranges ( from 1100 to 1500 F). The challenge of scaling up plasma proportion technology for practical use in a jet engine is real. The engine depends on many factors to make a lift-off.
With the plasma proportion technology, the power produced may not scale linearly, and comparing it to a conventional jet engine is just an uncertain idea and some grandiose claims.
According to a paper published by a professor at Wuhan University, China, the prototype thruster can produce about 28 Newton of thrust per kilowatt of power.
A common commercial plane like the Airbus A320 produces about 220,000 Newton thrusts combined; this means a small-sized jet plane will require almost 7,800 kilowatts to operate.
For perspective, this prototype suggests loading an aircraft with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight. The A320’s payload is only 130 giant battery units. There is no existing battery that could provide enough power.
It will take time to make this idea a reality, but it is for sure a ray of hope to reduce or eliminate the carbon footprints of humans. There is a need for extensive research to determine the ideal materials, construction environment, and other factors to get this engine going.
Do you think this electric plasma jet engine can become the future of air travel by replacing the conventional jet engine? Do you think it is possible to scale up the plasma jet engine? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Thanks for reading till the end. Comment what’s your opinion about this information “Why Electric Plasma Jet Engines Are Future?”.
- Humans will never colonize Mars!
- Gwynne Shotwell: Meet the Woman Behind SpaceX
- Elon Musk says he and partner Grimes are semi-separated
- Will the SpaceX Starship fail like the Space Shuttle?
- SpaceX Starship Updates – SuperHeavy Ready for Raptors Static Fire
Information Source: Youtube – DiscoverZen