Gulf Carriers Could Be Big Beneficiaries of Breakthrough Use of Ceramics Inside Jet Engines

Gulf Carriers Could Be Big Beneficiaries of Breakthrough Use of Ceramics Inside Jet Engines
February 24, 2015 at 02:02pm

We all know that ceramics can handle heat. After all, that’s why we usually drink hot tea and coffee in ceramic mugs. But today’s high-performance ceramics are light, tough and heat-resistant enough not only to handle boiling water, but also the 1,800-degree-Fahrenheit environment of a super-powerful jet engine.

A recent breakthrough at GE Aviation regarding the use of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) in jet engines could generate big benefits for the Gulf’s fast-growing, long-haul airlines. This innovation could enable lighter, more efficient engines that would allow carriers to fly planes further, even as they burn less fuel.

While CMCs are already being used in GE’s latest power-generating gas turbines and the next-generation LEAP jet engine, these uses have been in non-moving parts. Even so, the benefits have been large, with the result that, although the LEAP engine won’t enter service until next year, it’s already the bestselling jet engine in GE history, with $96 billion in orders at the U.S. list price.

The new development has been to move from ceramics in non-moving parts to successfully using ceramics — instead of nickel alloys —for the turbine rotor blades inside the jet engine.

This is an important advance, because the turbine in today modern jet engine works with very high surface temperatures that can make even advanced alloys grow soft. Engineers use lasers to drill tiny holes in the metal-alloy turbine blades to bleed in cooling air and protect their surface from the heat. This air cooling within the jet engine turbine reduces performance.

By using CMCs that don’t need to be air cooled, engines become aerodynamically more efficient and therefore more fuel efficient. As well, since the ceramic fins are lighter than metal ones, engineers were able to reduce the size of the metal disks to which they are attached — further reducing both jet engine size and weight.

GE recently finished the world’s first successful test of rotating CMC blades inside an F414 military jet engine, which normally powers F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet jets. The blades performed at engine temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a GE researcher put it, “CMCs allow for a revolutionary change in jet engine design.”

For Gulf carriers, the potential of these new jet engines could allow them to connect ever-more distant parts of the globe, while doing so more efficiently.

This story was adapted from GE Reports.We all know that ceramics can handle heat. After all, that’s why we usually drink hot tea and coffee in ceramic mugs. But today’s high-performance ceramics are light, tough and heat-resistant enough not only to handle boiling water, but also the 1,800-degree-Fahrenheit environment of a super-powerful jet engine.

A recent breakthrough at GE Aviation regarding the use of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) in jet engines could generate big benefits for the Gulf’s fast-growing, long-haul airlines. This innovation could enable lighter, more efficient engines that would allow carriers to fly planes further, even as they burn less fuel.

While CMCs are already being used in GE’s latest power-generating gas turbines and the next-generation LEAP jet engine, these uses have been in non-moving parts. Even so, the benefits have been large, with the result that, although the LEAP engine won’t enter service until next year, it’s already the bestselling jet engine in GE history, with $96 billion in orders at the U.S. list price.

The new development has been to move from ceramics in non-moving parts to successfully using ceramics — instead of nickel alloys —for the turbine rotor blades inside the jet engine.

This is an important advance, because the turbine in today modern jet engine works with very high surface temperatures that can make even advanced alloys grow soft. Engineers use lasers to drill tiny holes in the metal-alloy turbine blades to bleed in cooling air and protect their surface from the heat. This air cooling within the jet engine turbine reduces performance.

By using CMCs that don’t need to be air cooled, engines become aerodynamically more efficient and therefore more fuel efficient. As well, since the ceramic fins are lighter than metal ones, engineers were able to reduce the size of the metal disks to which they are attached — further reducing both jet engine size and weight.

GE recently finished the world’s first successful test of rotating CMC blades inside an F414 military jet engine, which normally powers F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet jets. The blades performed at engine temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a GE researcher put it, “CMCs allow for a revolutionary change in jet engine design.”

For Gulf carriers, the potential of these new jet engines could allow them to connect ever-more distant parts of the globe, while doing so more efficiently.

This story was adapted from GE Reports.

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