A new kind of engine under development, called a detonation engine, could save the military hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs every year. The technology, which military researchers are working on together with scientists at GE and other companies, could reduce fuel consumption at power plants, in ships, and on airplanes by as much as 25 percent. The Navy alone estimates that retrofitting its ships with the technology would reduce annual fuel costs by $300 to $400 million.
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It could be over a decade before such engines are put to practical use. But DARPA, having finished detailed plans, is now in the middle of a $62 million program aimed at building the first full-scale demonstration of one version of the technology. (GE is involved in the project: see “GE’s Risky Research.”) Meanwhile, Navy researchers are using sophisticated simulations to advance a version of the concept that could make it far more practical.
Detonation engines would replace jet engines in airplanes and the gas turbines that run power plants and Navy ships. A set of rotating blades at the front of those engines compresses air, which is then mixed with fuel and combusted in a steady flame. That produces hot gases that do the work an engine is designed to do, whether it’s turning a propeller, propelling a jet, or spinning a generator to produce electricity.
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