NASA selects FAMU-FSU College of Engineering to help develop sustainable aviation system

Investigators in the NASA University Leadership Initiative program from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering include, from left, Lance Cooley, Peter Cheetham, Wei Guo, Juan Ordonez, Helen Li, Chul Kim, Louis Cattafesta and Sastry Parmidi. Not pictured: Charmane Caldwell. (M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

Researchers at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering will help NASA develop the future of sustainable aviation as part of a five-year, $10 million project.

FAMU-FSU Professor of Mechanical Engineering Louis Cattafesta will lead a team in developing a hybrid electric power system that uses turboelectric generators and fuel cells. The system is powered by hydrogen using ambient air or concentrated oxygen, which could help reduce or eventually eliminate aviation emissions.

The funding comes as part of NASA’s University Leadership Initiative (ULI) program. The agency is partnering with industry, academia and other agencies to provide solutions to the challenges presented by climate change.

“There is a national research agenda for commercial aircraft propulsion and energy systems to reduce harmful emissions from commercial aviation,” Cattafesta said. “The elimination of carbon dioxide and the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions we are working on with this project may bring us one step closer to finding a viable pathway toward zero-emission in the aviation industry in the future.”

Using simulations that model a 100-passenger short-range aircraft, the team will develop design requirements for the various technologies needed to move toward a zero-emissions target. NASA hopes to meet that goal by 2050.

One possible solution is using liquid hydrogen for the takeoff and climb phases of flight. To that end, the team will test various liquefied gases that are kept in a liquid state at very low temperatures — called cryogens — to see if they can be used to improve the power distribution systems used in flight.

The FAMU-FSU team will partner with researchers from the University at Buffalo, University of Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Raytheon, Boeing and the Advanced Magnet Lab, Inc.

The industrial partners in the group will act as advisers for the project and share their knowledge of challenges shared across the aviation industry. The team plans to use outreach and educational programs through Florida A&M University, a Historically Black College and University and part of the joint FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, to educate and inform the community about their research and zero-emission aircraft technology.

“By training a diverse group of students and underwriting academic and industry internships, we hope the project will help produce the next generation of the green aviation industry workforce,” Cattafesta said.

Other teams that received ULI funding were the University of Central Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The program provides students with valuable experience solving real-world problems and gives them the chance to showcase and develop new technologies.