GE & NASA to Test Hybrid Jet Engine

GE Aviation and NASA are teaming up to test an “open rotor” jet engine design that puts the fan blades on the outside of the engine, which they say could reduce jet fuel consumption by more than 30 percent. GE and NASA actually designed the engine and developed it into a product — the GE36 — in the 80s, but say they never commercially released it because of falling oil prices.

In the face of high fuel costs this year they have decided to revive the engine design and plan to start wind-tunnel tests in early 2009 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center where the original testing of the GE36 took place. Initial testing of the open rotor design will focus on fan configuration performance and acoustics. GE and NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate are jointly funding the program.

Exhaust from kerosene-burning jet engines released high up in the atmosphere is already responsible for 4 to 9 percent of the climate change impact, according to the European Climate Action Network. The air travel industry is increasingly trying to reduce emissions, as carbon regulations are likely to come into effect internationally. Startups like Solazyme, Aquaflow Bionomics and Sapphire Energy are working on bio-jet fuels that can reduce carbon emissions. And Boeing, along with a consortium of airlines and Honeywell’s energy technology developer UOP, have established the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to develop cleaner jet fuels as well.

Images courtesy of GE.

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