Propeller Engines Find Favor for Quieter Travel and Greener Earth

May 3rd, 2013 BY Saikat | No Comments

It’s back to retro for even something as high tech as aircraft engines. The imperativeness of the environment is forcing the aviation industry to take a look at something that had mothballed for the Smithsonian archives. Propeller engines could make a comeback thanks to the work of the guys at Rolls-Royce.

Those guys certainly know something about engines. Now, here’s the moot question – just why are propeller driven engines back in the reckoning? It’s all a matter of fuel savings now in these ‘throttling’ times. Turbo-fans or turbo jets have ruled the skies for the last few decades. Speed has come at the cost of the fuel bill and the environment. But modern propeller-driven engine or turbo-props are known to be more fuel efficient that the jets. But in spite of serious merits it never caught the fancy because of the clatter it makes. But now the crisis in the environment is pushing the propellers back into the forefront.

 An article in The Guardian has quoted the work at Rolls Royce and the advances they have made in designing a quieter more fuel efficient propeller driven cousin of the jet. The Rolls-Royce technicians have designed the engine around a new type of propeller blade and the use of double rotors. It is claimed to be a far more efficient design than the ones which exist today. Two sets of propellers move in opposing directions. A standard propeller pushes the air backwards causing the plane to move forward. The double rotor design enables the engine to better optimize the energy used. But it does not solve the problem of noise caused by the rotating high speed propellers. The noise emanates from the size, shape and speed of the rotors. Rolls-Royce engineers negated some of the noise by using more blades per engine and also reworking the shape and thickness to a squatter and thinner proportion. So now the rotors turn at a slower speed generating less noise but are more efficient.

Estimates vouch that the new engine could cut an airline’s fuel bills and greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. According to Mark Taylor, an engineer at Rolls-Royce who is leading the project the new type of engine design could lead to savings of $3m or 10,000 tones of CO2 per year per 100 to 200 seater aircraft. Is this what the airline industry needs today…something which not only brings down the astronomical fuel costs but also contribute to the environment. Fuel costs today are eating into most of the revenues generated and forcing airline companies to tighten their belts.

Alice Bows, a climate scientist who specializes in aviation’s environmental impact at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre, said:

“The amount of CO2 from aviation looks to be 2-3%, a relatively small proportion of the world’s total. But you’ve got annual growth of 6-7% in terms of passenger kilometers with efficiency improvement only at around 1%.”

Industry watchers say that Rolls-Royce has always been at the forefront of engine design though others are not slacking off either. General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and French company Snecma are all working towards the same goals and some of them have working prototypes. These can only mean good news as technology tries to re-fashion old world tech with new world problems.

Source: The Guardian
Image: Flickr.com

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