Stories of Aerospace Engineering

Read interviews and stories of researchers and students at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, and discover the scientific questions on which they work and the solutions they present.

Kite power: towards affordable, clean energy

How can we produce clean and renewable energy in a more affordable way? As we are confronted with climate change and global warming, this question represents one of the greatest challenges of the 21 st century. A research team in the field of airborne wind energy of the faculty of Aerospace Engineering recently kicked off their ‘Fast Track to Innovation’ project REACH, which is funded with 3.7 million Euro by the European Horizon 2020 programme. Their ambition? To ensure cost-effective renewable energy with a low environmental footprint by using kite power, or, as it is called more generally, airborne wind energy. On 31 May 2016, the official kick-off meeting of the REACH project took place at the faculty of Aerospace Engineering. After a word of welcome by coordinator Dr. Roland Schmehl (section Wind Energy), the various partners involved gave short presentations, followed by lunch and discussions. Kitepower, a recent start-up of TU Delft, is at the core of the REACH project with the mission objective to commercialize the technology. Enevate B.V. is the technical coordinator of the project and will integrate the developed kite system, market and sell it. The goal is to have the first commercial prototype of the E100 – the name of the 100 kW kite power system – within two years, and to sell it within three. Several parties have already expressed their interest. Losing weight and reducing costs Horizontal axis wind turbines with rigid rotor blades are the most common way of converting wind energy. There are now over 200,000 wind turbines operating worldwide. But these conventional wind turbines have downsides: they are heavy, expensive, make noise and detract from the visual quality of the landscape (and so does the needed infrastructure such as high-voltage lines). The concept of a kite power system has the upper hand when it comes to these downsides. ‘Wind turbines are very robust. This means they have to deal with immense structural forces,’ Schmehl explains. ‘The tower and rigid rotor blades that take all the aerodynamic loads are heavy and expensive. The essence of airborne wind energy is to replace this heavy structure by lightweight cables and membranes. This way, we might use a tenth of the material – and thus weight – to produce the same amount of energy. This means the cost of energy would turn out dramatically lower if we use kite power.’ How does the system work? Functional components of the 20 kW technology demonstrator developed at Delft University of Technology The ground station holds an integrated ground control centre and incorporates the cable drum with a cable routing mechanism. The generator holds a 20 kWh battery. Because it houses also the central control computer, the ground station functions as the ‘brain’ of the system. The kite control unit (or KCU) determines how the kite flies by steering and depowering of the wing. The KCU is commanded by the ground control centre via several redundant wireless communication channels. Eventually, the goal is to be able to have the KCU function as a ‘brain’ as well, because it would closer to the kite and thus more reliable. Also, it would then be able to communicate with KCUs of neighbouring kite systems to avoid collision. The kite has 25 m 2 surface area and holds an on board sensor platform to continuously measure the position, orientation and velocity of the wing. The wing creates the aerodynamic lift force as turbine blades on conventional wind turbines do. Challenges ahead In the coming months, the team is set on showing the feasibility of certain features. One of the first milestones to pass, is flying during the night. This involves illumination, because aircraft need to be able to see the kite. Although every flight is registered, a back-up plan is needed, should communication fail. A second milestone would be to fly for 24 hours straight by the end of this year. The advantage the kite system has over the wind turbine – its low weight – poses a challenge. The system must be lightweight, but also strong enough to be reliable and durable. One particular difficulty in this is securing automatic launches and landings for the system: ‘If there is a thunderstorm coming, or troubles occur with a wind turbine, you can simply push a button and it will stop rotating. A flying system is very different, as you will need to land it. You cannot just stop mid-air.’ Lastly, there is currently an ongoing debate on whether a kite power system should be considered an aircraft or an obstacle. Certification of the E100 is therefore also something that will be handled in the near future. Schmehl: ‘By the end of 2017, we want to have a commercial prototype of the 100kW system.’ The 20 kW kite power system of TU Delft in operation at the former naval airbase Valkenburg, The Netherlands Dr. Roland Schmehl Johannes Peschel TU Delft : general coordinator, contributes research Kitepower : associated start-up, technical coordinator Dromec B.V. : ground station Maxon Motor GmbH : control drive trains Genetrix : kite development and production

Research challenges in wind energy

Can supercooled generators improve the efficiency of offshore wind turbines? How can ‘big data’ from sensors mounted on wind turbines help in the maintenance of wind farms? How can we calculate the effects of waves on floating wind turbines? Is it possible to forecast wind power at the height of wind turbines? Is it a good idea to combine offshore wind turbines with wave or tidal energy generators? These are some of the questions included in this research agenda for wind energy drawn up for the European Academy of Wind Energy by TU Delft professor of wind energy Gijs van Kuik and his colleague Joachim Peinke from the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. They are fundamental scientific questions from researchers working in 11 different fields, ranging from material sciences to energy conversion, and from environmental impacts to aerodynamics. Van Kuik: ‘Most wind energy agendas, such as that of the International Energy Agency, focus on technologies for application in the short term, for example to reduce the costs of wind energy. However, this agenda looks to the future.’ Why do we need to do this? ‘The biggest wind turbines currently in use are the largest rotating machines in the world, wind turbines are more and more often used in large offshore wind farms, and the contribution of wind energy to the global energy mix is increasing. This increase in scale means there are new scientific challenges to be solved. As scientists, we are of course interested in the answers, but the main reason for coming up with answers to these long-term challenges is that they can result in game changers – radical new technologies that make it possible for wind energy to become a significant component of the energy mix.’ Paper encourages discussion Under the banner of the European Academy of Wind Energy, TU Delft professor of wind energy Gijs van Kuik and his colleague Joachim Peinke from the University of Oldenburg have drawn up a long-term research agenda for wind energy. Researchers working in 11 different fields in Europe and the US submitted their fundamental research challenges for inclusion in the agenda. The agenda will initially be published as a scientific paper with the title ‘Long-term research challenges in wind energy’, in the new open access journal Wind Energy Science. It will also be published in book form later this year. Gijs van Kuik: ‘The aim of this paper is to show that wind energy is more than just an engineering discipline that comes up with short-term solutions. Answers to fundamental research problems can help in the future development of the wind energy sector.’The main aim of the paper is to encourage discourse amongst colleagues. Van Kuik: ‘I hope that many people who read the paper disagree with our views, so that we encourage a lively scientific debate.'The EAWEwind energy research agenda will also be published in book form by Springer later in 2016. Further information For further information please contact professor Gijs van Kuik at +31 15 27 84980 or via g.a.m.vankuik@tudelft.nl . Article published in Wind Energy Science 9 February 2016: van Kuik, G.A.M., J. Peinke et.al. ‘Long-term research challenges in wind energy’ . The new Wind Energy Science journal

One way to make composite aircraft lighter: stop riveting and start bonding

Provided it’s manufactured and applied correctly, adhesive bonding (using glue for non-material scientists) is a safe and efficient way to join aircraft parts together. “Adhesive bonding has been used for several years instead of or together with rivets in conventional metal aircraft. But now that aircraft fuselages are increasingly made from composites we need to know more about how we can use adhesive bonding to join composite parts optimally." "At the moment we apply similar design methodologies used up to now in metal bonding to adhesively bond the new material composites. This penalizes significantly the weight saving potential of composites”, says structural joints researcher Sofia Teixeira de Freitas of the faculty of Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft. ”The design of bonded joints has to be re-invented in order to efficiently join composites, both in term of shape and in terms of material properties optimisation (fibre direction and layup).” In July Teixeira de Freitas was awarded a NWO Veni-grant. The grant gives her the opportunity to come up with a new design methodology with which the aircraft industry can determine the optimal properties of the composite material and the optimal geometry to join the different aircraft parts together safely and efficiently. Drilling holes and fitting rivets Since about the time Boeing introduced the Dreamliner, aircraft manufacturers have predominantly used carbon fibre composite materials for parts of aircraft as a light and strong replacement of aluminium. On aircraft leaving the production lines now, about half of the materials used are composites. It’s understandable that composites are popular with the manufacturers: lighter aircraft have lower fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions for example. Aircraft consist of many small parts that have to be joined together. In traditional aluminium-made aircraft fasteners such as rivets were used to do this. Teixeira de Freitas: “We have only slightly adapted the old joining methods used for aluminium to fit modern airplanes that are made from both aluminium and composites. Basically, we still drill holes and fit rivets. This is far from optimal. Drilling holes cuts the carbon fibres of the composite and significantly destroys their load bearing characteristics. To compensate that more material is used, which makes the airplanes heavier again.” Joints between the wing skin and the stiffener, aircraft wing Zooming in on the adhesive bond solution Adhesive bonding – glue Using just adhesive bonding could solve this issue, but much more knowledge is needed about the ’glue’s’ behaviour in the longer term and we need to know better how to shape the composite’s fibres and what geometry is needed to connect the two parts together. Teixeira de Freitas: “Composites are not like metal that has fixed properties. The fibres that make up the composite can be placed in different directions, making it possible to adjust material properties. We need to find out how to create optimal properties to build a stronger and safer adhesive joint. Also we need to know what the optimal geometry is of connecting the two parts together, whether it’s linking composites together or whether it’s connecting composite and metals.” Teixeira de Freitas faces an interesting scientific challenge: “Composites already exist as highly efficient materials, but they need to be optimised to become very efficient structures as well. What we need to do is scale up to larger structures. Adhesive bonding plays a pivotal role in this”. Is the future made of glued composites? Will all aircraft – or any other metal structure – consist of bonded composite parts in the future? Teixeira de Freitas believes in the future every part of a structure will be made from the best material tailored to its purpose and that new solutions will be found for joining these together safely and efficiently: “Interfaces in hybrid structures will become increasingly important. In the future we will need joints that do not reduce the performance of material parts. Adhesive bonding is a very promising candidate for this, but other options are also researched (for example by my colleagues at the faculty), such as welding plastics or even using a type of Velcro.” Veni The Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni is a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for researchers who have recently obtained their PhD. It allows them to conduct independent research and develop their ideas for a period of three years. The researchers receive a maximum of 250.000 Euros. Teixeira de Freitas: “I am planning to use the grant mostly to collaborate with experts at other universities and build bridges between disciplines.” Offshore industry This summer Teixeira de Freitas received another piece of good news: she – and her colleagues in a broader consortium – also received a grant of 500.000 Euro from the Top Sector High Tech Systems and Materials for research on using composites in the offshore and maritime industry. Sofia Teixeira de Freitas Sofia Teixeira de Freitas is a civil engineer with a Master’s degree from the University of Lisbon in Portugal. In her PhD at the faculty of Civil Engineering at TU Delft shedeveloped adhesive bonding technology for reinforcing steel bridges. She currently holds the position of Assistant Professor in the department of Aerospace Structures and Materials at the faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft. Sofia: “My multi-engineering background gives me a broader perspective, an overview of disciplines which I find very useful. What really motivates me? To expand my knowledge and pass it on to new generations.” The banner photo pictures the composites laboratory at TU Delft

Fighting corrosion with algae

If algae and specifically diatoms can be used to increase the efficiency of environmentally friendly anti-corrosion coatings, we could protect all kinds of structures – aircraft, trains, military tanks and so forth – without using toxic and expensive materials. The use of coatings is one of the most widespread approaches for protecting metallic structures against corrosion. Such coatings use passive and active protective methods such as barrier against corrosive species and corrosion inhibitors. For almost 100 years, corrosion inhibitors based on chromium VI have been used in coatings to maintain the protective function even after damages have occurred. Though efficient, these particles are highly toxic and carcinogenic. As a consequence, the consumption of chromates has already been banned in many applications and is a constant target for the highly demanding aerospace sector where its banishment has been delayed several times due to the lack of sufficiently good alternatives. The use of algae, and specifically the exoskeletons of the algae group known as diatoms, might help us create the alternative the world is looking for. Along 2015, Assistant Professor Santiago Garcia at the Novel Aerospace Materials group, set up a project to explore the potential use of diatom exoskeletons (or: frustules) to protect aerospace structures. Garcia: “In 2015 we made the first proof of concept to demonstrate that algae can be used for active corrosion protection and self-healing applications. I believe this could potentially have a huge impact.” Why diatom frustules? There are already a few examples of promising corrosion inhibitors that might replace chromate. However, studies have shown that unwanted reactions occur between these inhibitors and the surrounding coating matrix thereby minimizing their inhibiting efficiency. A way to avoid this is to encapsulate the inhibitors inside carriers. Using a carrier reduces the interaction between the inhibitor and its surroundings, and in addition it can be used to control the release of the corrosion inhibitors. This strategy can theoretically result in much more efficient anti-corrosive coatings. Frustule of the Aulacoseira type diatom (diatom exoskeletons) The frustules can function as such a micro-sized carrier. Why is their specific architecture suitable for the task? PhD researcher Paul Denissen explains: “Frustules are hollow nanoporous silica microparticles referred to as ‘pill-box’ structures. They have a cell wall made of silica, a strong structure with pores. Luckily for us, these pores are big enough to allow the corrosion inhibitors in and out.” Studying individual particles After his MSc thesis on this topic Paul Denissen started his PhD research last January and is looking into the isolation and study of individual frustule particles by means of advanced characterization techniques. Garcia: “Frustules show a wide diversity in shapes, sizes and porosity (namely architecture). Dedicated tests need to be performed to find out how the individual particles behave and how we can influence that behaviour. In short, we want to: Explore the potential use of diatom exoskeletons and demonstrate that they can be used for doping and controlled release of functional species in coatings such as corrosion inhibitors. Evaluate what the effects of the architecture and geometry are on the release and efficiency of corrosion inhibitors. Modify the surface of diatom exoskeletons and apply certain triggers such as changes in the pH level to control the release of corrosion inhibitors. If we understand this, we can start making coatings that only release the required amount of corrosion inhibitors at the right time using highly available raw materials. “ Corrosion protection mechanism of coatings containing inhibitor-doped diatom exoskeletons Nature’s solution to an industrial problem The NovAM group is now specifically looking at high strength aluminium alloy 2024 used in aerospace manufacturing, which is very susceptible to corrosion but the trick can be used to protect all kinds of metal alloys. Denissen explains that this self-healing mechanism could also be used for other applications in the future: “Every inhibitor has certain characteristics which have certain effects when encapsulated in a carrier. Once we have quantified individual particles and measured how they behave, we can decide on which particle is best for a specific application, such as aircraft.” If algae and specifically diatoms can be used to increase the efficiency of environmentally friendly anti-corrosion coatings, we could protect all kinds of structures – aircraft, trains, military tanks and so forth – without using toxic and expensive materials. Garcia: “Diatoms occur in virtually every environment that contains water. Reproduction among diatoms is by spores and asexual by binary fission and they have a very high growth rate. Using frustules to make active anticorrosive coatings would not only present a healthier solution to current synthetic approaches, but it would be up-scalable, sustainable and inexpensive as well. This new concept follows the line with our ongoing research on self-healing polymeric systems and new functional micro and nano fibres for composites and coatings made out of algae.”

Glue for art’s sake

Hans Poulis (TU Delft Adhesion Institute) recently received funding from the NWO for his research proposal in the field of adhesive aging. The proposals were accepted in the first round of funding of the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS). Poulis: “This is the first time that the Adhesion Institute will be developing a new type of adhesive from scratch.” There are currently all sorts of standard adhesive types in use for the restoration of works of art. Synthetic adhesives are often more stable than natural adhesives, but are not always entirely suitable. They were not developed for restoration purposes and therefore never have all the necessary characteristics. So we usually don’t know how they will alter over time, either chemically or mechanically. In other words, how the substances age over time under environmental influences. They might turn yellow, for instance, or the qualities of the adhesive bond may alter. Hole in the market It is a niche market, and not really commercially viable for businesses. Recanvassing paintings requires relatively large amounts of adhesive, but you can imagine that for repasting tiny paint flakes only tiny amounts of adhesive are needed. The Adhesion Institute will be looking into that latter process, and particularly into reverse glass paintings and compositions in oil paint and gouache. These works are typical for many works of art that will need restoring in the short term if we want to preserve them for future generations. Developing a specific adhesive for this purpose is not cost-effective for a company, if only for the high costs of the research involved. Poulis: ‘Firstly we’ll take two post-doc researchers into the field. I hope to organise a brainstorm session in March with professionals who have years of experience, including curators. They know exactly which requirements the adhesive must meet. Based on the outcome of that session, we will determine the start phase of our research. That will centre on the question: what chemical substance will we base it on? That will be our main ingredient. We will then create different mixtures and depending on the requirements, adapt the recipe accordingly. Using various lab tests we will determine how the mixtures react, initially and over time.’ From test to product By carrying out aging tests, we aim to find out how mixtures react after a certain number of years. For instance, light exposure tests will enable us to see to what extent such a substance turns yellow over time. For these tests, Xenon lamps are used. They generate UV light and initiate an accelerated aging process. Poulis: ‘Ultimately, we will also test the adhesives on works of art (mock-ups). Of course, in practice you never know precisely what will happen to the adhesive, because of the numerous circumstances that could influence it. Moreover, there are no data available which can link accelerated aging tests to actual conditions.’ The Adhesion Institute has set itself a two-year time limit in which to develop an adhesive which is suitable and stable in the long term when it comes to mechanical and visual performance. The consortium for this research project includes a commercial company specialised in the manufacture of small quantities of adhesive. They would be able to put it into production. Poulis: ‘And who knows, it might generate a spin off.’ --- The NICAS is an interdisciplinary research centre aimed at the conservation of cultural heritage. It works in collaboration with the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Rijksmuseum, the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). Click here to visit the NICAS website.

A voyage of discovery through our solar system with lasers

How can we learn more about planets and moons? Dominic Dirkx recently wrote his PhD dissertation on a new method of accurately measuring the distance between the earth and satellites orbiting or on planets and moons to within between a millimetre and a centimetre. Current radio measurements are accurate to about a metre. Dirkx took laser tracking, a technique that’s currently used for measuring the distance to earth’s satellites (accurate to within a few millimetres), and extrapolated that to interplanetary distances. His research primarily shows that it’s vital that we not only measure the distance extremely accurately. Other measurements will also need to be improved in order to make the most effective use of laser tracking. If we manage to do that, this method can potentially play an important role in the exploration of our solar system. That might sound obvious, but his research has shown that focusing on making laser measurements and measurements of elements such as magnetic fields, shape or a planet’s seismic activity more accurate can really have a significant impact on your results. Influence of the clock on earth When trying to improve laser measurements, Dirkx asked to what extent the ultimate measurements are influenced by the clock we use here on earth. Dirkx: ‘When you measure distance, you’re actually measuring movement. You use a clock on earth and a clock in space to measure how long a laser pulse is en route. Because you know what the speed of light is, you look to see where a satellite is from one moment to the next. And that means that if you’re just a nanosecond out, it can easily make 30 centimetres difference.’ If you examine how something moves, you examine how gravity works and as such, you learn about the surroundings. Imagine that you measure how a satellite orbits the planet Mars: that will allow you to find out more about the composition of the planet. Last year, for example, this method was used – alongside other measurements – to discover an ocean under the surface of Enceladus, a moon of the planet Saturn. A remarkable thesis defence Dirkx graduated nominally and with distinction. David Smith (MIT) felt it was worth the trip to Delft to sit on the committee during his thesis defence. Smith is specialised in laser ranging as well as planetary sciences. Dirkx: ‘He’d worked with colleagues from our research group in the past, and I’d met him at conferences. He’s someone who’s extremely intimidating to doctoral candidates – a major figure with an endless list of significant publications to his name.’ Dirkx: ‘What really helped during my promotion was having the opportunity to work on the European FP7 ESPaCE project. This enabled me to build up a large network, so I’ve always had lots of people to discuss my research with. My tip for other PhDs is therefore to talk to people whenever you can. Not only within your own research group, but particularly outside of it.’

Understanding aircraft behaviour on final approach

PhD student Floris Herrema (Air Transport and Operations) recently won the SESAR Young Scientist of the Year Award for his MSc thesis ‘Compression on final approach and Time Based Separation (TBS) for Optimised Runway Delivery’. His work has had a direct impact on the knowledge and safety of TBS and the deployed TBS at London Heathrow Airport: the first in the world. “I never expected to win the SESAR Young Scientist of the Year Award, so I was actually quite relaxed on the day of the final round in Bologna, Italy. Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) is a European funding institute focused on air traffic management (ATM). This means I got to stand in front of 400 people in the field of ATM that day, which was great.” Predicting aircraft behaviour “The objective of my study was to quantify and model the potential performance compression improvements on final approach for Time Based Separation (TBS). The concept of TBS was known, but it was too complicated to actually implement it. I have developed a new air speed profile, the Floris Friso Herrema (FFH) tool, with which we can better predict the expected aircraft behaviour and TBS. This is very relevant information for air traffic controllers. It is now easier to understand and thus implement. And it was implemented at London Heathrow Airport last year, which is now the first TBS airport in the world.” The advantages “The most important advantage is the recovery we achieve during strong headwinds. It is still estimations based on Heathrow, but we expect that during strong headwinds we can achieve two more landings per hour. In addition, TBS is on track to save 80.000 minutes of delay per year. The benefits to the airlines can add up to 7.5 million pounds per year.” Impact “I was specifically looking for a thesis subject with potential impact. It is part of the reason why I wanted to work together with EUROCONTROL on this from the start. I combined a traineeship at EUROCONTROL together with my master’s project. You see without implementation, theory is just theory. This is also why it is great now working together with Ricky Curran and Dries Visser (both Air Transport and Operations) during my PhD project. With everything I do, they ask: what is the social and academic impact? The university and EUROCONTROL each give me feedback and advice that is always slightly different. There is certainly extra value in combining these views. I hope to always keep moving around in both worlds and be an active link between the two.” Future “My PhD project, ‘Big data analyses and machine learning at airports to support decision making’, is well underway. I am working on feasible machine learning techniques. The goal is to implement it at all major airports in Europe. I really enjoy working on this. Right now we are trying to embed my research in a European research project. We are working hard on a few proposals in the context of the Horizon 2020 programme to try and obtain funding for this. If we could achieve this, that would be great of course.” The most important advantage is the recovery we achieve during strong headwinds.