LEARN – Leading Edge Aeronautics Research and the Fixed Wing Project:  NASA-Funded Research Grants Won by Professor Kiruba Haran

How can we save 5,000 gallons of jet fuel (with the attendant emissions) every time a Boeing 747 leaves the earth? Professor Kiruba Haran with his CEME colleagues and graduate students is doing research through both the NASA-funded Fixed Wing Project (see description in the Grainger CEME 2013-14 annual report) and LEARN to enable more aerodynamic and efficient aircraft with electrical machines so small, light, efficient, and powerful that planes could one day be propelled by electricity. Research through the Fixed-Wing project includes finding ways to make aircraft simultaneously more powerful and energy efficient, including reducing weight, distributing motors more aerodynamically, and integrating new developments in energy-efficient engine design. Through LEARN, he is applying superconductivity to achieve an order-of-magnitude increase in electric machine power density — from the current 4-8kw/kg to >68kW/kg and efficiency >98%.
Superconductors are far better at carrying current than copper and allow machines to produce more power with less energy. But the magnetic fields generated are so extreme they would interfere with the plane’s navigation system and other electromagnetics on board. One approach would be to envelop the magnetic fields with a “passive” steel (heavy) magnetic shield. Professor Haran’s solution is similar to technology used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. The superconductor’s strong magnetic fields are “actively shielded” by surrounding the superconducting machine with a set of strong electromagnetic coils. These coils create their own equivalent magnetic field that bucks against the one coming from the superconductor and keeps the magnetic fields from escaping. When leaking magnetic fields are no longer a constraint, the internal fields can be ramped up to the superconductor capability. Professor Haran noted, “It’s very exciting to be able to integrate this discovery into aircraft, because we can now work with magnetic fields an order of magnitude higher than the machines of today. This can result in aircraft engines exponentially more powerful and efficient.”
Other LEARN investigators include co-principal investigator Andrew Alleyne in Mechanical Engineering, Grainger CEME faculty collaborators, partners at The Ohio State University, Timothy Haugan at the Air Force Research Laboratory, and electromagnetics software company Magsoft. The following research summaries by Professor Haran’s graduate students demonstrate solutions to various aspects of this research initiative and document progress toward achieving an electrically propelled airplane.
The quote from Professor Haran is excerpted from Ashish Valentine’s ECE ILLINOIS article, “Haran works with NASA to bring superconductors to the sky,” dated May 13, 2015.