Research & Innovation Services

Piezoelectric Aero Engine Control Systems (PACS)

KTA Partnership Development Award

Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control (PTMC), Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Aero Engine Controls (AEC)

Prof Andrew Plummer

“The team has achieved some excellent results in a short time. The problem of using small movements in piezoceramics (measured in microns) to provide much larger movement of a valve poppet (in millimetres) has been successfully overcome in a robust design. The project has been a true collaboration, combining the best expertise and experience between industrial and academic partners.”

Professor Andrew Plummer, Principal Investigator and Director of the Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control, University of Bath

“I think to go from a standing start to design, build, test and report on a completely new concept piezo pump for an aerospace fuel system in six months … represents a very creditable achievement.”

Mike Lyons, Aero Engine Controls’ Chief of Technology, Sensors and Effectors

Challenge

The Advisory Council for Aeronautical Research in Europe (ACARE) has set environmental targets for new aircraft entering service in 2020.  The ACARE targets require aero engines to release significantly lower levels of environmentally harmful emissions – C02 and NOx – by 2020 compared to 2000 levels.  Meeting these targets requires a new generation of ‘lean burn’, low-noise, fuel-efficient aero engines. Lean burn (combusting fuel with the minimum of harmful emissions) requires sophisticated combustion control through several fuel injection points.  Such control systems need to operate reliably in a hostile physical environment at competitive cost.

Solution

The use of piezo-actuation (ceramic materials moving in response to an applied voltage) could be a novel solution to controlling fuel valves in aero engines.  Piezo-actuation devices have few moving parts and are lighter, simpler and theoretically more reliable than conventional actuating devices.  Aero Engine Controls (AEC), which provides Rolls-Royce with state-of-the-art engine control systems, sought Bath’s expertise to help develop an appropriate piezo-actuation device. The resulting collaborative project designed, built and tested a highly original prototype that could control an aero engine fuel-type valve.

Benefits and outcomes

  • Bath and AEC brought the design concept through to assembled prototype and bench testing within six months. The collaboration led to the creation of an EPSRC CASE PhD studentship, which will extend the testing and development of the prototype to assess its operation under a wide range of environmental conditions.

  • This piezoelectric technology, through actuation of valves in hydraulic devices, could ultimately be applied to a range of sectors, including: flight controls such as rudder and elevators; excavation machinery; and marine propulsion and navigational controls.

  • By working closely with AEC, the project and developments since have given Bath greater contact with Rolls-Royce and other major companies working within the European Union ‘Clean Sky’ initiative.

Project team

Professor Andrew Plummer, Principal Investigator & Director of the Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Nigel Johnston, Co-Investigator, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Professor Chris Bowen, Co-Investigator, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Michael Schlotter, Co-Investigator, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Johan Berote, KT Fellow, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Mike Lyons, Chief of Technology, Sensors and Effectors, Aero Engine Controls
Chris Weir, Director of Research and Technology, Aero Engine Controls

Funded by the University of Bath’s EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account.