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About NASA research : Are Cold Fusion/LENR Planes already feasible? [updated 2014-03-01]

NASA  is raising interest recently by the announce of a presentation of Doug Wells "Low Energy Nuclear Reaction Aircraft" research at NASA NARI Seedling 2014 seminar.

This project is described as such :

The purpose of this research is to investigate the potential vehicle performance impact of applying the emergent Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) technology to aircraft propulsion systems. ...  The objectives of this project are to gather as many perspectives as possible on how and where to use a very high density energy source for aircraft including the benefits arising from its application, explore the performance impacts to aircraft, and evaluate potential propulsion system concepts.

Seen alone, it is a huge surprise, but this project was already presented at NASA Seedling 2013, where he was awarded $150k for 12 month up to end of January 2014.

On NASA site, his experience is described as so:

Douglas Wells research interests include the study of aircraft design, aerodynamics, unconventional configurations, personal air vehicles, and Low Energy Nuclear Reactions. Currently, Wells is the technical monitor for the Boeing SUGAR Phase 2 Truss-Braced Wing Concept Studies and Exploration task. He performed technical assessments for the subsonic Fixed-Wing Project Phase 1 and Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project Phase 1 contractor’s advanced concepts.

EDIT: Doug Wells presentation at Seedling 2014 are published (on NASA site)












His project is anyway following others NASA project is done, and there is an article about it's content.

The most interesting for LENR supporters is the SUGAR joint study between Boeing and NASA, trying to study feasibility of low emission planes of various design, including LENR propelled commercial planes.

SUGAR plane by Boeing

They proposed two designs of LENR plane, one hybrid-LENR-Electric for transition, and one full LENR which is technologically more demanding.

Analyzing the reports on LENR-Forum we can extract the key requirements to implement commercial LENR plane :

  • With LENR only engine (even for take-off/landing) the needs are (section 3.0 page 24)
    • Heat engine > 1HP/lb (1600W/kg)
    • LENR reactor>3.5HP/lb (5700W/kg)
  • with an hybrid electric engine the contraints relax to:
    • 0.4HP/lb (660W/kg)
    • LENR reactor 1HP/lb (1600W/kg)
    • batteries 225Wh/kg

From study of the markets, it seems we are not far from feasibility of Hybrid LENR plane:

  • Some innovative turbine like Cyclone WHE are above 1000W/kg, but without condensers...  Using the plane as radiator may be an idea...
  • Commercial batteries like Nissan LEAF packs, are below the target, but innovative batteries are proposed above 400Wh/kg... and there is huge progress since 2012.
  • LENR reactors like Defkalion, are a little too heavy from their specification, but from their demo of R5 reactor, a new generation of optimized reactor will reach the target.

So the project of Doug Wells is not extreme futurism, but more like a feasibility study before launching a serious projects, asking manufacturers to deliver performing components : lightweight LENR reactors, turbines, and accumulators.

The six electric fans and tail-mounted turbine engine in the E-Thrust concept design from EADS. Image: Courtesy EADS

Currently hybrid electric planes are studied by others companies, like this EADS hybrid gas-electric plane.

NASA have already studied distributed propulsion for plane, and using superconductors.

Superconducting Distributed propulsion - many small engines that are integrated with the airframe for radically different airplanes

Advances in computational and experimental tools along with new technologies in materials, structures, and aircraft controls, etc. are enabling a high degree of integration of the airframe and propulsion system in aircraft design. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been investigating a number of revolutionary distributed propulsion vehicle concepts to increase aircraft performance. The concept of distributed propulsion is to fully integrate a propulsion system within an airframe such that the aircraft takes full synergistic benefits of coupling of airframe aerodynamics and the propulsion thrust stream by distributing thrust using many propulsors on the airframe. Some of the concepts are based on the use of distributed jet flaps, distributed small multiple engines, gasdriven multi-fans, mechanically driven multifans, cross-flow fans, and electric fans driven by turboelectric generators. This paper describes some early concepts of the distributed propulsion vehicles and the current turboelectric distributed propulsion (TeDP) vehicle concepts being studied under the NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing (SFW) Project to drastically reduce aircraft related fuel burn, emissions, and noise by the year 2030 to 2035.

Another group, working with NASA, propose an electric aitrcraft for 150 passengers without superconductors.


Hyper fuel efficient 150 Person electric aircraft doable without superconductors and just todays technology

ESAero,studied hybrid propulsion systems, became convinced that conventional, non-superconducting electrical systems could be made to work in a large aircraft. It was funded by NASA Ames to take the ECO-150 concept and rework it around ambient-temperature generator and motor technology available to meet NASA's 2020-25 timeframe N+2 goals (40% less fuel used, lower emissions and lower noise).

To the evident surprise of both ESAero and NASA, the N+2 ECO-150 design closed - met its requirements - despite having a significantly heavier turboelectric distributed-propulsion system using technology available today in industries outside aerospace. "Our main interest was could we even get the aircraft to close, and the answer is yes," says Gibson.


It will takes time, as it seems to be a big problem for engineers, but it is no more the domain of futurology and science.


Published on 28th January 2014AlainCo By AlainCo (alainco@lenrforum.eu)

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