Future Airplanes Could Get Power from Themselves

Think about this: when airplanes land, there is some pretty serious energy lost as the plane brakes and slows down. We already have electric vehicles, trains, buses, shipping trucks, garbage trucks, and more saving energy from such braking and using it later for power. Why not planes? An Airbus 320, when landing, could creates approximately 3 megawatts peak available power due to its great speed and weight when landing.

Well, a feasibility study by a team of engineers from the University of Lincoln, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), ‘Feasibility Study of Energy Recovery from Landing Aircraft’, has found that capturing this kinetic energy is completely feasible.

“The energy produced by a plane’s braking system during landing — currently wasted as heat produced by friction in the aircraft’s disc brakes — would be captured and converted into electricity by motor-generators built into the landing gear. The electricity would then be stored and supplied to the in-hub motors in the wheels of the plane when it needed to taxi.”

Sounds logical to me.

And, apparently, this would have three big benefits. It would:

Save on fuel (saving money, of course);
Cut emissions;
Reduce the noise planes make while taxiing (interesting benefit).

Cutting out the need for engines to power the planes when taxiing really may become a reality. “ACARE (the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) has made engine-less taxiing one of the key objectives beyond 2020 for the European aviation industry,” EPSRC notes.

“Taxiing is a highly fuel-inefficient part of any trip by plane with emissions and noise pollution caused by jet engines being a huge issue for airports all over the world,” says Professor Paul Stewart, who led the research.

“If the next generation of aircraft that emerges over the next 15 to 20 years could incorporate this kind of technology, it would deliver enormous benefits, especially for people living near airports. Currently, commercial aircraft spend a lot of time on the ground with their noisy jet engines running. In the future this technology could significantly reduce the need to do that.”

The research team studied different ways of capturing and transferring this energy, “such as generating electricity from the interaction between copper coils embedded in the runway and magnets attached to the underside of the aircraft, and then feeding the power produced into the local electricity grid.” Most of the options weren’t technically feasible or cost-effective (at least not yet), but the option of just using the energy to power the planes themselves a bit was a good one: “the study showed that capturing energy direct from a plane’s landing gear and recycling it for the aircraft’s own use really could work, particularly if integrated with new technologies emerging from current research related to the more-electric or all-electric aircraft.”

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