Ceramic Engines the Future of Flying

I’ve come to the conclusion that rising fuel prices may actually make flying more efficient and cheaper. This won’t happen overnight, but as plane makers are building aircraft out of composite materials, and airlines are experimenting with biofuels, eventually costs will be lowered and flying will become even more economical.

One of the most exciting new innovations in aviation is the introduction of the ceramic LEAP engine, which should have a dramatic impact on aviation when they become commonplace.

LEAP is an acronym for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion which is a high bypass turbofan engine that is made from ceramics. It is being developed by CFM Corporation, which is a joint venture between GE Aviation and the French company Snecma.

Ceramics have been touted as a great substance to use for the manufacture of engines for many years because they conduct heat much better than metals. The reason for ceramics not being used commercially in engines is because they are brittle, susceptible to breakage from even light handling, so not robust enough to use in aviation.

Now a breakthrough in their use has been created by the development of a material called Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC) which is made from silicon carbide that has been toughened by marrying it with coated fibres that are manufactured from the same material.

The new LEAP engine is about one third lighter than all alloy engines and it can operate at temperatures that are significantly higher than those tolerated by metal engines.

Although a weight saving of one third in the engine alone doesn’t sound like much, when you factor in the other weight savings that you gain from the structure support, it does become significant. Also, jet engines operate by spinning very rapidly, which means that the centrifugal force of a smaller engine is much less so even more weight can be saved.

The less weight you need to lift into the air, the lower your costs of flying. One other benefit relates to the higher temperatures that ceramics can tolerate, which leads to much lower maintenance costs as there is much less wear and tear on the engine and other parts.

So far several manufacturers have committed to using the LEAP engines on aircraft. The Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 Max are to be built using the engines as are the Chinese-built Comac C919 planes, narrow-bodied airliners with which the Chinese hope to compete with both Boeing and Airbus.

If these LEAP engines are as efficient as claimed, then flying will become a much more common and much cheaper exercise in the near future.

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