The Air Force Office of Scientific Research here recently awarded the University of Washington and three partner universities a grant worth approximately $6 million over 5 years to study the design of air vehicles capable of collecting and storing solar and heat energies.
One of the goals of the research is to enhance Air Force air vehicle systems but there are many potential applications in other areas such as space platforms
While running air vehicles or space platforms, there are presently three main sources for harvesting energy with non-fossil origins – sunlight, heat, and vibration,” said Dr. B. L. “Les” Lee, program manager at AFOSR’s Aerospace and Material Sciences Directorate. The source of the heat energy, he said, can be aerodynamic heating caused by high flying speed or the recycling of waste heat around an aircraft cabin or engine. Each of the three sources, he explained, is capable of generating electricity, but sunlight and heat energies show the greatest potential in terms of significant power output. As a result, the proposed research will focus primarily on these two energy sources
Researchers will explore a variety of topics concerning materials and micro devices associated with so-called photovoltaic energy – or electricity generated from light sources – and thermoelectric energy – or electricity generated from heat sources. Once fully developed, these systems may one day enable air vehicles to fly solely on solar energy and aerodynamic heat. The systems may also find application in cabin operation on commercial airplanes
This is so awesome! First we use it in unmanned planes, then we use it in small manned planes. And then we just keep on progressing. Even if it didn't soley power an airplane, it could still reduce gas money! Looks like the Air Force is thinking smart now I tell ya. Although the money there allocating is pretty small. Hey you have to start somewhere! And here is the cool thing! If Air Force planes could be electricaly charged eventually. They could run on that for a little bit, intill the solar and thermal energy harvesting systems kicked in! I mean just think how quiet electric cars are, now apply that to a plane. I mean that would probably give a steath advantage of some sort. Another thing it would help with is thermal signature. Electric cars don't give off emmisions, electric planes won't either. And last but not least, the money savings. There will probably be four phases this technology will mature through.
1. Unmanned Aircraft Unmanned aircraft are usually pretty small and don't have half as much power needs as regular manned aircraft. Just think if we could power our unmanned fleet with solar and thermal energy. The money savings for fuel would probably be at least in the tens if not the hundreds of millions of dollars. This technology would also provide us with a potential to keep borders, etc, under surveliance for long periods of time.
2. Small Aircraft An example of a small aircraft would be the F22 Raptor, or JSF. The savings for using no fuel in these aircraft would be in the hundreds if not the billions of dollars.
3. Medium aircraft. The B2 Spirit or B52 bomber would be a medium sized aircraft. The savings for these aircraft would be the same as phase 2.
4. Big Aircraft. The C-130 or the AWACS, or even the JSTAR. Would be in this category. The savings would be on the phase two scale.