Pioneering £8 million programme aims to reduce environmental impact of gas turbine jet engines

Airplane jet engine

Researchers from the Energy 2050 group, part of the Energy Institute at the University of Sheffield, will join a team led by the University of Strathclyde on an £8 million research programme which aims ultimately to reduce the environmental impact of aviation and power generating gas turbine engines (GTEs).

Sustainability and the need to minimise emissions are significant global issues. To respond to that, industries are committed to meeting stringent emissions targets and have committed to drastic emissions reductions by 2050. As well as aircraft, gas turbines are used to power trains, ships, electrical generators and pumps, with the UK one of the technology and market leaders globally in GTE manufacturing with £27 billion exports in 2015. 

The Laser Imaging of Turbine Engine Combustion Species (LITECS) programme aims to deliver transformational combustion measurement and modelling tools to enable the development of low emission engine designs and evaluation of new low emission fuels, leading to reduced environmental impact.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, and industry, the consortium, made up of the universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Manchester, Southampton, Loughborough and Sheffield, builds on the achievements of a previous £2.8 million programme which used newly-developed laser techniques to demonstrate, for the first time, two dimensional imaging of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the exhaust plume of a full-scale commercial gas turbine aero-engine.

Researchers, backed by industry partners Rolls-Royce, Siemens Energy, OptoSci, M Squared Lasers and Tracerco, are working to establish several new non-intrusive multi-beam laser measurement systems for simultaneous imaging of the concentration of multiple gases, soot and temperature in the exhausts and combustion zones of GTEs. 

The resulting measurement data will be used to develop new understanding of the combustion and emissions generation processes and apply it to advancing our strategies for emissions reduction. Measurements will be made for a range of engine conditions and new fuels, enabling for the first time direct experimental evaluation of new fuel types and their potential to achieve reduced emissions.

The Programme Leader, Professor Walter Johnstone, from Strathclyde's department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering said, "Serious emissions reduction can only come from new, disruptive, measurement technologies that transform the experimental characterisation, understanding and modelling of the combustion and emissions generation processes and enable direct experimental evaluation of the performance of alternative fuels. 

"The LITECS programme brings together six world leading UK engineering universities, supported by industry, to provide the multi-disciplinary expertise to address these needs. 

"Success will advance our strategies towards significant emissions reduction and ensure the UK is a world leader in turbine engine combustion research."

Speaking on behalf of Energy 2050, Professor Pourkashanian said, "The research team is delighted to be involved in this EPSRC Programme grant which gives flexible funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges. Our work within the programme will focus on sustainable aviation fuel performance in aircraft engines, in line with the world-leading facilities we have here at the University of Sheffield.

"Our new flagship modern Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) testing facilities and sustainable aviation fuel production pilot plant at the University's Translational Energy Research Centre - a unique testing rig and the first of its kind in the UK - will enable us to drive forward the evaluation and testing of sustainable aviation fuels, and ultimately reduce the environmental impact of aero-engines. 

"The University of Sheffield is ready for take-off as a leader in sustainable aviation fuel, thanks to both the state-of-the art facilities at the Translational Energy Research Centre and the University of Sheffield researchers. The broad adoption of sustainable aviation fuel has the single largest potential for decarbonisation of the aviation sector and is key to reaching UK net zero carbon target". 

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.