Jul 07, 2020 I Paul Seaburn

Scientist Says He’s Built a Jet Engine That Turns Electricity Directly Into Thrust

The city of Wuhan, China, hasn’t been doing too well in the news lately, but a new “this changes everything” discovery by a professor at Wuhan University may help change its reputation as well as the science of jet propulsion, climate change and space travel. Is that everything?

“We propose a prototype design of a propulsion thruster that utilizes air plasma induced by microwave ionization. Such a jet engine simply uses only air and electricity to produce high temperature and pressurized plasma for jet propulsion. We used a home-made device to measure the lifting force and jet pressure at various settings of microwave power and the air flow rate. We demonstrated that, given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines using fossil fuels. Therefore, such a carbon-emission free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.”

In perhaps the easiest-to-understand paragraph in his paper published recently in AIP Advances, Wuhan University professor Jau Tang describes building a homemade jet engine which uses only air and electricity to produce pressured plasma as fuel for a carbon-free jet engine. Is this really a solution to greenhouse gases or just another this-engine-runs-on-air fantasy? The website AeroTime Hub does a great job of putting the study by Tang and fellow Wuhan University Institute of Technological Sciences partners Dan Ye and Jun Li into an understandable form.

“The basic theory of such a drive is fairly simple. If a source of compressed air is subjected to bombardment with microwave radiation, the air mass is ionised, turning it into Plasma and heated to a very high temperature - about 1000ºC.”


“Research is at an early stage, but the team at Wuhan have managed to generate a plasma flow with sufficient power to lift a small steel ball. Using only 400w of microwave energy (2.45Ghz) and a flow rate of 1.45 m3/hour they generated a jet propulsion force of 28n/kW. Scaled up, this is equivalent to the output of a conventional jet engine.”

This sounds great … except for that part about the steel ball. That kind of power is a long way from a plane full of passengers or a spaceship to Mars. And, as Futurism explains in its interview with Professor Tang, that kind of upward scalability rarely if ever works as planned. Remember when you tried to duplicate your rubber-band-powered balsa wood plane to a size that would carry you and your friends to California? Then there’s the electricity itself. Tesla Motors is doing great things with batteries, but you don’t hear Elon Musk talking about using them for his rockets. There’s a good reason why this won’t even work for an earth-bound Airbus A320 plane.

“For perspective, that would mean loading an aircraft up with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight — an impractical load, especially because the A320’s payload could only carry about 130 of the giant battery units. Long story short, no existing battery tech could provide enough juice.”

How about nuclear power? There go your pollution-free bragging rights. Tang thinks battery technology will improve fast enough that he could have a drone version of his plasma jet craft flying in two years. Wishful thinking?

For the good people of Wuhan look for some positive news, that’s not soon enough.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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