Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Engineering are seeking to improve the efficiency of jet engines by identifying and developing thermoelectric materials that can harness excess energy.
Patrick Hopkins, professor and a director of Ph.D. studies in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UVA, is leading the work. Hopkins is a mechanical engineer as a specialist in microscale heat transfer and high-temperature materials science. He identified the potential of the voltage, which comes from a temperature change in the engines’ coating material, to provide the increased efficiency.
Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of jet engines, has signed on as a critical partner in this endeavor. UVA is one of only three universities in North America that participate in the Rolls-Royce University Technology Center Network.
Hopkins teamed up with Dr. Ann Bolcavage, a Rolls-Royce Engineering Associate Fellow in Coating Materials, to translate the idea to reality. The team went on to secure a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program to explore this idea.
This NSF program, which focuses on promoting collaborations between academic research institutions and industry that enable technological breakthroughs and address critical needs, presents opportunities for companies to explore transformative ideas that they would not normally pursue.
Hopkins and Bolcavage are setting out to design a material with poor thermal conductivity that creates this reserve of energy. In exploring thermal barrier coatings in great detail, they also hope to develop coatings that are less expensive to produce—another area of savings for the industry.