Professor Robert Fleck, Head of the School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering
Aerospace work on ventilation flows
The next 10 years will be the most exciting in Aerospace since the jet age. The work of aerospace engineering at Queen’s has been driven in recent years by the economic and environmental challenges facing the planet.
Researchers at Queen’s have developed design methods which allow for better use of advanced metallic and composite materials which reduce the cost and environmental impact of aircraft over their very long life - now often over 30 years.
Due to work being undertaken at Queen’s, future aircraft will be very light, very strong and very durable.
Aeronautical engineering at Queen’s is also driving forward the potential for green aviation with work taking place on devising environmentally friendly aircraft engines. The testing expertise available within the School has meant Queen’s ideas are quickly tested in real world situations and make it through to becoming real products more quickly than the university average.
The School has begun to work on new design methods for very lightweight composite materials and on changing how aircraft is designed in terms of total energy consumption, to ensure that in 50 years time green aircraft are widely in use.
The School works in partnership with several of the world’s leading manufacturers including Bombardier, BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce and Boeing.
The long standing links with Bombardier have played an important part in the creation of the University’s Centre of Excellence in Integrated Aircraft Technologies (CEIAT).
Supported by £3.9M of funding it now has established links with BAE Systems, Airbus, Alcan, Eurocontrol and others. The Centre conducts strategic research in order to support the aerospace industry both locally and internationally. The significant laboratory infrastructure built in CEIAT now allows the virtual test bed to be developed, essential for overcoming the high cost of test and certification of new composite materials for the industry.
In recent years the School in conjunction with Bombardier Aerospace has been conducting research into several aspects of aircraft systems. This association has led to the establishment of the Bombardier Aerospace/Royal Academy Chair at Queens University. This unique link between academia and industry has opened up the opportunity to conduct the high level of research required to make CEIAT a successful international venture.
The School’s successes also resulted in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics bringing one of its major conferences to Belfast – the first time is was held outside the USA.
Aeronautical engineering at Queen’s has also made substantial contributions to icing systems and Bombardier’s patented thrust reverser which is used to help slow aircraft just after touch-down, reducing wear on the brakes and enabling shorter landing distances. Researchers in the School are now working on devising a configuration to reduce drag for the covered housing that holds engines, fuel or equipment on a plane.
Greener engines and research offering hope for victims of the most devastating spinal injuries are just some areas of pioneering work from researchers in Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s.
The challenge for the automotive industry continues to be that of reducing exhaust emissions, with an increasing emphasis on CO2 emissions and fuel economy. This sets the agenda to concentrate on after treatment systems and design tools for engine development.
On-going research in the area of automotive catalysis is a major element in the new multi-disciplinary Centre for Theory and Application of Catalysis, CenTACat (£7.5M) at Queen’s. CenTACat undertakes multidisciplinary research involving chemists, physicists and engineers with a common interest in understanding the fundamental principles that underpin clean energy production, clean organic chemistry, and environmental protection.
Investment of £1.2M in reactor benches and measuring equipment helped establish agreements with major automotive manufacturers on three-way catalysts and diesel particulate filters.
Turbomachinery research is a central technology for engine boosting systems, enabling higher power density and improved efficiency. Researchers at Queen’s are leading the way in modelling tools, with specialised facilities for prototyping and testing of new concepts.
This expertise has been applied to the development of micro-turbines for renewable electricity production.
The concept won the Regional Shell Springboard competition for green energy technologies in 2006, and the Clean Energy Investment Showcase in London in 2006. The technology is being commercialised by a Queen’s spin-out company, Turbine Developments Limited, which secured a seed investment of £300k in 2007 from the green technology venture capital fund, Low Carbon Accelerator.
Research in the School is also aimed at benefiting human health. Research on biological cements to repair ‘burst fractures’ of the spine, typically those caused in car crashes, is being carried out in a major collaborative project between Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds.
‘Burst fractures’ to the spine, injuries often sustained in major impact accidents and falls, are difficult to treat. They account for over 1,000 emergency NHS admissions each year and often require highly complex, invasive surgery and a long stay in hospital.
To be able to use bone cements for burst fractures would be a major leap forward. It would be simpler, quicker and much less invasive for the patient, reducing both recovery times and NHS costs.
The project team at Queen’s has expertise in developing and testing synthetic biomaterials for the repair of bone defects. Dr Fraser Buchanan of the School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering is working with colleagues in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences on the project. He said: “These materials can be delivered to the fracture site by injection and mimic the chemical composition of bone itself. This type of fracture causes the vertebra to burst apart and in severe cases fragments of bone can be pushed into the spinal cord. Surgeons may be able to join bone fragments together and stabilize the spine with the use of metal screws and rods, but patients with these injuries are often in a really bad way, so the less invasive the treatment, the better.”
Dr Buchanan is also working on developing bioresorbable orthopaedic implants which will dissolve over time, eliminating the need for further surgery to remove them.
Work in such areas involves the Medical Polymers Research Institute at Queen’s (MPRI), a £4.27M initiative funded by Invest NI, in conjunction with the School of Pharmacy.
MPRI is part of the Polymers Research Cluster which undertakes leading-edge and industrially relevant research on the formulation, processing and modelling of advanced materials, including biomaterials, polymer processing innovation, polymer based nanomaterials and novel modelling techniques.It comprises around 65 academic, research and administrative staff, incorporating the Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC), which works closely with local industry.
Environmental benefits on offer through the work of the School have been realised through the development of more energy efficient polymer processing technologies and use of modelling techniques to improve packaging design resulting in less material usage.
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