How does oil-free turbine engine technology work, and how will it
Christopher Dellacorte: We are taking aircraft engines and gas
turbines, and we're taking the oil out of them, and replacing the
oil-lubricated ball bearings with air-lubricated ball bearings.
Oil has temperature limitations because it burns at a few hundred
degrees, but air never burns, so we can run red-hot bearings and
significantly reduce the weight. We can also improve the ability
to run at very high speeds. We're developing new aircraft engines
that are going to be much more efficient than current engines
Do you anticipate this becoming mainstream technology?
That's our intent. What we're doing now is extending the existing
technology to bigger, more powerful systems because the bearing
technology itself is an industry-owned technology ? there are companies
that do these kinds of bearings. Bearings are used in small electrical
generators and in small compressors for aircraft cabin pressurization
and air conditioning so that passengers don't have to breathe any
oil that might leak past seals on an airplane. We've been using
bearings for 30 years, but the technology and industry has improved
to the point where we think we can use them on a small business
jet engine, and that's the project that we're currently working
expect to run the jet engine in about three years and then we're
going to move to bigger jet engines. The innovation here in the
government is that we do the high-temperature solid lubricant coatings
that make the bearings work during start and shut down at high temperatures.
The government does the project management and the integration,
we do the materials development, and we let industry do the bearings.
Have you partnered with private companies or government offices
to develop this technology?
On our current oil-free business jet engine project we're partnering
with Mohawk Innovative Technology in Albany, NY, and with Williams
International in Walled Lake, MI. We anticipate doing a regional
jet-class engine or supersonic business jet-class engine with many
of the U.S. engine companies. The government owns a patent on a
coating technology that we develop that makes the bearings work
at high temperatures. We have two licensees that do the coating
technology. So, in addition to Williams and Mohawk, we are also
working with two companies: Advanced Materials Products in Twinsburg,
OH, and Hohman Plating and Manufacturing in Dayton, OH.
What do you hope to gain out of the partnership with universities?
had grant activities with St. Louis University, Case Western Reserve,
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Penn State University. The
purposes of our grant activities in general are to educate students
in this technology area so they can go to work for companies in
this technology field. It's a multi-faceted government-run activity.
We realize that the companies need to get new employees that know
how to do the technology because they can't train all their own
people. We're making an investment in the universities so that students
graduate and can work in this new field.
Is there an expected timeline for the development and application
of this technology?
bearing technology is 50 years old and saw its first commercial
use about 30 years ago in cabin pressurization compressors for aircraft.
The technology kind of stalled there for decades until there was
a recent industry doubling of the bearing load capacity that occurred
about ten years ago. In 1999, in a previous project that was teaming
up with a turbo charger company and Mohawk Innovative, we build
the world's first oil-free turbo charger for a truck engine. A turbo
charger looks a lot like a jet engine but it doesn't have an internal
combustor. So we developed the world's first turbo charger in 1999
and now we're working on the world's first business jet engine,
which we anticipate running in 2004.
Do you envision any other applications for oil free turbo engine
technology could be applicable on microturbines, fuel cell air supply
compressors, rocket engine fuel pumps, turbo chargers, and auxiliary
power units which are power generators on airplanes that generate
power to run the engine on the ground and provide air conditioning
and electricity needed to take off. Those are the main applications,
in addition to aircraft engines.
2004, which is when we're going to demonstrate the first small business
jet engine, we are going to get started on bigger engines ? what
we call regional class engines. The regional jet is a new phenomenon
that tries to get people to hop airports that are a few hundred
or thousand miles apart. We are working to develop a regional jet
engine demonstration project and we hope to demonstrate the first
engines in 2007.
trying to demonstrate to the industrial people that this technology
can work; we're not trying to build a commercial product when we
demonstrate a turbo charger or demonstrate and engine. We're trying
to show them the path so, using their own money, they can then develop
Senior Research Engineer
Glenn Research Center
Ames Research Center
Habitability and Environmental Factors Office
Johnson Space Center
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