NWO Grant for harvesting thermal energy on board of aircraft

News - 17 December 2019

Prof. Colonna, Chair of the Propulsion and Power research group, and his co-workers Dr. De Servi, Dr. Pini and Dr. Vos have been awarded a €1.300.000 NWO Open Technology Program Grant for the research project titled “Waste Heat Recovery Systems for More Electric Aircraft”.  The aim of this program is to develop a disruptive waste-heat recovery technology that will greatly increase the fuel efficiency of airliners, namely ultra-light organic Rankine cycle (ORC) power systems.

Two applications will be studied: one that can be introduced sooner to the market, namely a gas-turbine-based auxiliary power unit with ORC waste-heat recovery which provides all the required electric power during flight at a very high efficiency, and a more futuristic combined-cycle turbofan engine. The team will study new power and engine configurations employing radically new designs for both turbomachinery and heat exchanger components.

They will use new methods developed by the groups and partly validating these methods using the unique experimental ORCHID setup of the Propulsion and Power lab. This setup implements a circuit in which an organic fluid flows, as a liquid in the low-temperature section, and as a dense vapor in the high-temperature section. The hot vapor can be sent to a supersonic nozzle for fundamental gas dynamics experiments and to a mini ORC turbine for testing purposes.

The research will lead to new simulation tools, new design methods, optimal configurations and working fluids, paving the way for R&D programs aimed at widespread commercialization of airborne waste-heat recovery  technology. If successful, the research might bring to a lowering of the CO2 emissions and fuel consumption from commercial aircraft of 5-10%.

The project is co-funded and supported by Safran, MTU and Aeronamic, sponsored in-kind by AKG, and Asimptote, while Airbus, Airbus Helicopters, NLR, and the Aicraft Design Laboratory of Stanford University are involved in a supervisory role.