The propeller engine led aviation to some of its greatest early achievements, but the noisy engine was quickly replaced by the quieter, fuel-guzzling turbojet engines primarily used today. But now that fuel costs are much higher and airlines are feeling the pressure to green-up, Rolls-Royce has redesigned the historic technology to be quieter and more energy efficient.
The company claims that their new open-rotor engine design could cut airline fuel bills by $3 million and CO2 emissions by 10,000 tons per year per aircraft if implemented on 100-200 seater aircrafts. To address the noise issue, more blades were added to the rotors and their shape was changed to be squatter and thinner. The company claims that this allows the rotors to spin at a slower speed, reducing the noise, while maintaining high efficiency.
Their design increases efficiency by using two sets of propellers near the rear of the engine that rotate in opposite directions. This set up reduces wasted energy because the second set of propellers untwists the air from the first set, recovering the energy in that air and producing more force.
Rolls-Royce isn’t alone in their innovative nostalgia -- General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Snecma all are working on propeller engine prototypes.
Air travel produces about 2-3% of the world’s total CO2 emissions and passenger distances are growing at annual rate of 6-7%. This means that in the long run, introducing greener aviation technology now will make a large impact. And, in my opinion, it’s always great when an existing technology can be made better. The cost to implement it is usually lower, which gives it a greater chance of being used, and really, that’s what it’s all about.
written by Linda, October 22, 2008
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