New Detonation Engine Could Slash Fuel Costs

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Researchers in the U.S military, General Electric, and other companies are developing a new type of engine (actually, a new family of engines) which can be built to burn hydrogen or fossil fuels. The engines are called “detonation engines.”

Combustion engines in general can already be built to burn hydrogen, but this one is up to 25% more efficient when used in gas turbine power plants, airplanes, and ships.

Airplane via Shutterstock

The benefits of more efficient combustion engines are not just for the fossil fuel industry, but they have the potential to help the wind industry significantly… if combustion engines were to become reasonably efficient.

Wind turbines can be used to power simple electrolyzers which produce hydrogen and oxygen from water. The hydrogen can be stored in high-pressure tanks and burned in the efficient engines to generate electricity.

When wind speeds fluctuate, the hydrogen system acts as a buffer for the wind energy because, technically, the electricity for end-users is being generated by the combustion engine, so the fluctuations in wind energy just affect the hydrogen levels in the tank, while power production is completely stable.

There would be absolutely no variation or interruptions with such a system. Wind power is already a low median LCOE (cost of electricity) of $0.05/kWh. “The only energy source that beats that is hydropower ($0.03),” Zach reported in July.

An efficient engine would render breakthrough energy storage and natural gas backup completely unnecessary. A hydrogen engine this efficient could excel where conventional engines and hydrogen fuel cells failed.

This detonation engine project has already been planned, and now it is in the prototype development stage. The full-scale prototype development is expected to cost $62 million.

The U.S Navy estimated that these engines could save them $300 million to $400 million in annual fuel costs if they retrofitted their ships with them.
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At the moment, Navy researchers are using simulations to advance a version of it that could make it practical.

The purpose of the detonation concept is to increase air pressure inside combustion chambers, which manufacturers of typical combustion engines would like to do (except that it is too impractical).

A detonation engine utilizes shock waves to achieve the desired pressure increase, which can be up to 10 times more than that of conventional combustion engines.

Unfortunately, it could take a decade to commercialize this technology.

Source: Technology Review

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Nicholas Brown

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