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Researchers at the Department of Engineering Science have developed new approaches to cool high pressure blade tips in aviation – which will improve engine efficiency and lifespan, and cut carbon emissions.

Diagram showing the new cooling system

The ability to burn engine fuel at high temperatures is vital to the future of aviation. Such engines will be more efficient and require less maintenance – making them more economic and enabling the use of carbon-neutral or carbon-free fuels, which will help tackle climate change.

Researchers at the Department of Engineering Science had previously developed a concept which they hoped could help cool high pressure blade tips in engines burning fuel at higher temperatures. An EPSRC IAA Doctoral Impact grant allowed the team to work with engineering firm Rolls Royce to develop this initial lab work to a stage where it can be tested in aircraft engines.

The project started during COVID pandemic which presented some challenges to working with the engineering firm. However, the team organised bi-weekly video meetings and set up systems for rapid transfer of data to allow iterative development work between the two sites.

Dr Joao Viera comments: “Normally translating such concepts from whiteboard to commercial application takes many years. Academics tend to concentrate on perfecting the theory and don’t have the opportunity to test their ideas against the real-world challenges and limitations it will counter in commercial application. The grant allowed us to really understand industry needs, and the challenges and limitations of manufacturing the technology, and to adapt our concept accordingly.”

The approach was tested in Oxford University’s Southwell Laboratory and a patent has now been filed. The results have also been published in the Proceedings of Global Power and Propulsion Society and Rolls Royce plan further develop the geometry for possible near-term engine implementation. The Post-doctoral researcher working on the project, Dr Joao Vieira, is now working in at Rolls Royce in a staff role.

Dr Joao Vieira adds: “It was a huge privilege to be involved in the project and I would certainly recommend other researchers to consider applying for, and working on, the IAA grant scheme which offers a rare opportunity to link academic and industrial work. Indeed, I’m now working on the technology in the Hot End Specialist Team at Rolls Royce, so it has been transformational for my career.”

Professor John Coull says: “The IAA grant was extremely useful in allowing us to take a concept out of the lab and demonstrate how to implement it in a real turbine, with all the real-world constraints. Rolls-Royce are now able to move ahead with engine testing, which is an extremely quick development in engineering terms where new generation engines may take decades to develop. In the longer-term, the impact of this work could be transformational. The technology could help to improve engine efficiency, extend the lifespan of engines, and enable the use of lower-carbon fuels in aviation – all of which will ensure aviation becomes sustainable and help tackle climate change.”

Accelerate the Implementation of a New Transonic High Pressure Tip Cooling Technology was funded by the University of Oxford’s EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (May 2021-June 2022)

Project team:

Professor John Coull is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Science

Dr Joao Vieira, formerly a Post-doctoral student in the Department of Engineering Science, is now an Aerothermal Engineer in the Hot End Specialists Team at Rolls Royce

Prof Peter Ireland holds the Donald Schultz Chair in Turbomachinery and is Head of the Oxford Thermofluids Institute in the Department of Engineering Science