The Rolls-Royce Future Technologies Group approached Teesside University to help undertake early stage research around innovations in the aerospace, energy, nuclear, defense and marine sectors that may reach the market in 10-15 years’ time.
A major push is underway on ‘step change’ technology, especially around engine development with moves towards hybrid propulsion in marine, rail and aerospace sectors. However, according to Alexis Lambourne, a Novel Materials Specialist at Rolls-Royce, the biggest challenge they face is in aerospace where there is a growing requirement to develop a hybrid propulsion package combing gas turbine, generator and electrical propulsion motors.
Having worked with Professor Simon Hodgson, Teesside University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), on a number of Rolls-Royce funded projects on high-temperature wire technology, the company had no hesitation in turning to the advanced surface coatings expert for their latest organisational problem.
‘A key enabling technology for an aerospace hybrid propulsion package comes from the ability to integrate electrical systems into the core of a gas turbine,’ Alexis explained. ‘Our need was to demonstrate high-temperature electrical wire insulation technology capable of operating at 450°C, thereby enabling this technology to go into electrical motors that would be used in a gas turbine engine. This is important as hybrid propulsion is recognised as the key to reduced fuel consumption and associated noise and emissions, whilst making the overall system much more responsive and efficient. Teesside University provided the high temperature wire, and wire encapsulation through their coatings, that could survive such extreme temperatures. With input from Manchester and Sheffield universities, a demonstrator electrical machine was designed and built in three places, tested in Sheffield, and delivered to Rolls-Royce.’
The three-year Innovate UK project, which was completed in 2017, marks another significant milestone in the relationship between the two organisations.
I have worked with Professor Hodgson and Teesside University a number of times and they are an excellent partner.
Their high-temperature wire insulation is probably world-leading technology. From our side, we now need to consider how we manufacture it in scale. But in terms of the brief we gave Teesside University, they did everything and more. It’s been an entirely positive experience, the people we have engaged with as much as the technology.