Rotating Detonation Engines for the Future's Navy

Guest_Jim_* - November 5, 2012 10:08AM in Science & Technology

There is a great deal of focus to make technologies more efficient, or to simple develop new, technologies that start off as more efficient. While that focus is often targeting consumer products, military hardware could else be improved, and researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory are working on that. On 129 US Navy ships there are 430 gas turbine engines that use the Brayton cycle to generate power for the vessel, but in the future these engines could be replaced with Rotating Detonation Engines (RDEs) that instead rely on the detonation cycle to produce more power with less fuel.

The Brayton cycle at the heart of turbine engines deals with creating and compressing fuel-air mixtures that are then ignited. The detonation cycle however does not require any compression to operate, as explosions create high pressure, though adding a compression step can improve the cycle's efficiency. The idea is to harness the pressure waves of explosions to generate electricity much more efficiently than a gas turbine can. Potentially this could increase power output by 10% while decreasing fuel requirements by 25%, which could amount to a savings of $300-$400 million dollars a year.

There is a great deal of work to still be done before RDEs and Pulse Detonation Engines (PDEs) can be deployed though. The researchers know enough to be interested in the technology but still require a better understanding of how it works and the performance it will be capable of.