Although fuel efficiency standards are not nearly as strict in the aerospace industry as they are in the automotive industry, aviation is still responsible for a large percentage of global emissions. With this in mind, NASA has decided to embark on a quest to develop hybrid aircraft engines. This new initiative is a rare move for NASA in that it will focus primarily upon improving aircraft as opposed to spacecraft.
NASA’s proposed hybrid engine system would combine an electric motor with a more traditional jet turbine in order to efficiently distribute power throughout the aircraft. NASA has yet to produce a test aircraft with hybrid engines, but they have performed extensive ground tests with a number of different hybrid engine configurations. Authorities at NASA are hoping that their hybrid aircraft engines will reduce aircraft fuel consumption by nearly 30 %.
“These systems use electric motors and generators that work together with turbine engines to distribute power throughout the aircraft in order to reduce drag for a given amount of fuel burned,” Amy Jankovsky, a NASA engineer said. “Part of our research is developing the lightweight machinery and electrical systems that will be required to make these systems possible.”
Considering the US commercial aviation industry burned through nearly 9 billion gallons of fuel in 2015, hybrid aircraft engines could present immense savings. NASA already has a general idea of how the new engines will function, but their research team is still hard at work developing additional fuel saving measures. Aircraft fuel efficiency has remained largely uncontrolled over the years, but with proposed EPA regulations looming, hybrid engines may soon become a necessity. Look for NASA to pursue even more aircraft fuel efficiency projects in the years to come.
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