Reporter 454, 19 June 2000

Plane facts in focus

International concerns about the environmental impact of ever-increasing air traffic are being addressed in a major European study co-ordinated at the University’s Department of Fuel and Energy.

Since 1960, air travel has grown by about nine percent each year. Even if its expansion can be contained at about five percent, it will still outstrip the rate of growth in the developed world’s GDP. As more and more aircraft engines enter service, the need for maximum efficiency and minimum emissions becomes more urgent.

Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian co-ordinates a multidisciplinary Leeds team which is co-operating with researchers in Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria to close gaps in the scientific knowledge about the combustion products of aircraft engines. The aim of the European Commission funded Partemis project is to create a body of information that will help engineers programme greater environmental friendliness into future generations of aircraft.

At present, about 12,000 civilian aircraft are in service, all but 13 of them operating at sub-sonic speeds and with a cruising altitude between nine and 13km. Supersonic flight, between 16 and 20km above sea level, emits combustion products where the ozone layer is at its highest.

To assess the effect of these emissions, the Leeds scientists are using laser diagnostics on aircraft engines at Farnborough to measure the concentration of unstable species like hydroxide radicals in the exhaust fumes. To date, most research on aircraft emissions has concentrated on the take-off and landing cycle and on the major combustion products – water vapour, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. More work is needed on its minor constituents like NOx, SOx and airborne particulates which may have a significant effect on the atmosphere, and on exhaust products emitted from beginning to end of the flight.

The unique Leeds centre for computational fluid dynamics, involving 11 science and engineering departments, has a key role in the project. It is creating models to validate experimental results from the other academic and industrial partners.

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