National Academies Press: OpenBook

Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril (2003)

Chapter:Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals

« Previous: Appendix C: Biographies of Committee Members
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×

D
Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals

The purpose of this taxonomy, which is a generalization of Zwicky’s idea (Zwicky, 1959), is to suggest that there are many unexplored ideas in the realm of aircraft propulsion. As with any taxonomy, not all the ideas are fruitful. Some can be immediately rejected as violating physical principles, and other ideas may not be capable of developing a suitable energy density. Nevertheless, a simplified taxonomy of aircraft propulsion provides a means of sorting and defining a large number of propulsion devices, some of which are in use, some of which may be practical following an adequate level of research, and some of which may never be practical.

Assuming an isentropic compression and expansion phase of the cycle, the committee identified 10 fundamental cycles that use fuel to provide thrust, shaft power, or electricity as an output (see Table D-1). Nine of these are thermodynamic in nature and the tenth converts fuel directly to electricity. This is the fuel cell. Batteries have intentionally been omitted because considerable development seems to be neces

TABLE D-1 Fundamental Thermodynamic Cycles (nonregenerative)a

 

Heat Absorption

Heat Rejection

Comment

1

Isothermal

Isothermal

Carnot cycle

2

Isothermal

Isovolume

 

3

Isothermal

Isobaric

 

4

Isovolume

Isothermal

 

5

Isovolume

Isovolume

Otto cycle

6

Isovolume

Isobaric

 

7

Isobaric

Isothermal

 

8

Isobaric

Isovolume

Diesel cycle

9

Isobaric

Isobaric

Brayton cycle

NOTE: The tenth fundamental source of power is a fuel cell, which converts a fuel directly into electricity.

aCompression and expansion processes are assumed to be isentropic.

sary before this power source can be applied to the propulsion of common as opposed to niche airplanes.

Alternating-current electric motors are relatively heavy. New magnetic materials provide lighter weight direct-current motors. This may or may not be the most immediate application of power from fuel cells. The heat added by a resistance heater is confined to a thermal boundary layer, which like all boundary layers is quite thin. Any attempt to emulate volumetric heating requires a relatively dense distribution of resistive elements and thus a sizable pressure drop. For this reason a fuel cell seems unlikely to be used to power a resistance heater to replace the combustor in an aircraft engine. However, the power from a fuel cell might be used for a volumetric heating process using a plasma, a laser, or a microwave breakdown process. If room-temperature superconductivity becomes a reality, a rotating electromagnetic wave in the nacelle could be used to suspend and drive a fan. The power for this arrangement could conceivably be derived from a fuel cell of the future.

The first column of a propulsion taxonomy (see Table D-2) could be defined by 10 items, the 9 cycles given in Table D-1 plus fuel cells. The second column would have two items: continuous and intermittent. Thus,

Cycle

Operation

1

Isothermal-isothermal

1

Continuous

2

Isothermal-isovolume

2

Intermittent

3

Isothermal-isobaric

 

 

4

Isovolume-isothermal

 

 

5

Isovolume-isovolume

 

 

6

Isovolume-isobaric

 

 

7

Isobaric-isothermal

 

 

8

Isobaric-isovolume

 

 

9

Isobaric-isobaric

 

 

10

Fuel cell

 

 

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×

TABLE D-2 Matrix Summary of Propulsion Taxonomy

Cyclea

Operation

Pressurization

Energy release

Propulsion

1

Isothermal-isothermal

1

Continuous

1

Mechanical

1

Oxidation (combustion)

1

Propeller

2

Isothermal-isovolume

2

Intermittent

2

Self-pressurized

 

2

Turbofan

3

Isothermal-isobaric

 

 

3

Both

2

Electrochemical (fuel cell)

3

Turbofan and afterburner

4

Isovolume-isothermal

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

Isovolume-isovolume

 

 

 

 

3

Photochemical (photosynthesis)

4

Turbojet

6

Isovolume-isobaric

 

 

 

 

 

5

Ramjet

7

Isobaric-isothermal

 

 

 

 

4

Photoelectric (solar cell)

6

Rocket

8

Isobaric-isovolume

 

 

 

 

 

7

Turbojet and afterburner

9

Isobaric-isobaric

 

 

 

 

5

Photodirect (laser/electromagnetic heating)

 

10

Fuel cell

 

 

 

 

 

8

Pulse-jet (pulse detonation engine)

aCycle name describes methods of heat absorption and heat rejection, respectively.

Selecting one item from the first column and one from the second column defines, in an elemental way, a family of 20 power plants. However, the continuous isothermal and isovolume cycles can be immediately ruled out as physically impossible because in the steady state the fluid is forced to move uphill against the total pressure gradient. This leaves 12 potential power plants (10 intermittent and 2 continuous: isobaric-isobaric and fuel cell). The next column of the taxonomy is pressurization:

Pressurization

1

Mechanical

2

Self-pressurized

3

Both

These three entries create a total of 36 options (30 intermittent and 6 continuous). Consider next energy release processes from fuel. The terms in parentheses are common names for the processes.

Energy Release

1

Oxidation (combustion)

2

Electrochemical (fuel cell)

3

Photochemical (photosynthesis)

4

Photoelectric (solar cell)

5

Photodirect (laser/electromagnetic heating)

Etc.

Recombination of excited molecular and atomic states, free radicals, and antimatter recombination are included in the term “etc.” but are not further considered because of the problems of storing the fuels. Nuclear energy release is excluded because of the weight of shielding material and radioactive hazards. With this exclusion, we now have five more options, which creates a total of 180 possible devices. Photochemical, photoelectric, and photodirect systems arguably possess a low energy density and in all likelihood will only find niche applications. Setting aside low-power-density processes reduces the number of options to 72 (60 intermittent and 12 continuous).

Propulsion mechanism is the next area for consideration.

Propulsion

1

Propeller

2

Turbofan

3

Turbofan + afterburner

4

Turbojet

5

Ramjet

6

Rocket

7

Turbojet + afterburner

8

Pulse-jet (pulse detonation engine)

These eight items provide one intermittent propulsion option and seven continuous propulsion options, one of which (the propeller) can also be used with intermittent cycles. This results in 204 options (2 × 60 + 7 × 12), which is quite a large number.

COMMENTS

Both the constant temperature and constant volume heat absorption (or combustion) cycles are usually intermittent (pulsed). Intermittent processes have the potential to operate at higher temperatures and reasonable wall temperatures because the wall can be cooled during the part of the cycle when no heat is applied. However, in practice some of this heat is lost and reduces efficiency. Further, while intermittent cycles have a high efficiency per pulse, the average efficiency is lower because power is available only part of the time.

The fuel cell could require a precompression of fuel depending on the fuel storage mechanism. The fuel cell has the

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×

potential to be isothermal and is thus quite attractive. Coupled to a superconducting electric motor, it could have a very high efficiency with low hydrocarbon emissions. The water vapor emissions can be reduced to zero, though at some expense in weight.

System weight and thermal efficiency are the fundamental system issues. The three curves in Figure D-1 show cycle efficiency as a function of the ratio of the heat rejection temperature (T2) to the heat absorption temperature (T1). The Carnot cycle is clearly the most efficient, with the Otto cycle second and the Brayton cycle the least efficient. The comparison is somewhat misleading, however, since efficiencies for the Carnot and Otto cycles are per pulse and not the average over the cycle. Carnot and Otto cycle efficiencies are somewhat lower in practice. An additional curve in Figure D-1 shows the efficiency of the Otto cycle if power is produced during only half the cycle.

The isobaric cycles can be continuous or intermittent since the pressure falls during combustion processes. Each process has its limitations. For example, the efficiency of the Brayton cycle is limited by material limits. That is, the compressor exit temperature is limited by high temperature material properties. Nevertheless, the continuous or open Brayton cycle provides a high power density and a relatively simple structure.

Relaxing the constraint on adiabatic compression and expansion (e.g., by using regeneration) almost doubles the number of options. For example, it may be possible for heat

FIGURE D-1 Thermal efficiency of the Otto, Brayton, and Carnot cycles.

removed during compression to be added during expansion in the turbine. With the exceptions described above, the current state of the art for heat exchanger technology is based on surface heat removal, not volume heat removal. The thermal boundary layer is thin even in an axial flow compressor, meaning the heat exchanger is likely to be heavy and create additional pressure losses. Hence until a volumetric heat exchange process is invented, the regenerative part of a modified Brayton cycle seems impractical.

Also, a cooling system upstream of the compressor could inject mist into the air stream. This would have two advantages: The stream would be cooled by evaporation and the total pressure would be increased. This is Ascher Shapiro’s aerothermo compressor. It might even be possible to inject the mist ahead of each compressor rotor and stator blade. In principle the cooling could be adjusted such that the temperature remains constant during compression. In practice, it may be possible to increase the effective compressor efficiency while reducing compressor outlet temperature by 50 to 150 °F. Another option would be to allow combustion in a suitably designed turbine stage, so that heat could be added in a more nearly isothermal fashion. This modified Brayton cycle seems attractive enough to warrant further research.

In summary, there seem to be a large number of alternative propulsion schemes. However, at present few alternatives seem to be practical; only a very few, including modified Brayton cycle engines, seem to warrant more than passing attention.

REFERENCE

Zwicky, F. 1959. Future Prospects of Jet Propulsion. Volume XII, Section L, Jet Propulsion Engines: High Speed Aerodynamics and Propulsion. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
Page64
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
Page65
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: Propulsion Taxonomy: Comments on Propulsion Fundamentals." Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10815.
×
Page66
Next: Appendix E: Four Levels of Models »
Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $29.00 Buy Ebook | $23.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

As recently as the summer of 2001, many travelers were dreading air transportation because of extensive delays associated with undercapacity of the system. That all changed on 9/11, and demand for air transportation has not yet returned to peak levels. Most U.S. airlines continue to struggle for survival, and some have filed for bankruptcy. The situation makes it difficult to argue that strong action is urgently needed to avert a crisis of undercapacity in the air transportation system. This report assesses the visions and goals for U.S. civil aviation and technology goals for the year 2050.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!