A Kinetic Energy Recovery System for a Landing Aircraft (KERS-air)

Picture this: you are returning home from your holiday, sitting in your pre-booked window seat in a Boeing 737-800; looking outside at the familiar sun-burnt landscape. You’ve started your descent and can recognise a few landmarks… you are getting closer to the runway, your flight touches down with a thud and within a few seconds the aircraft comes to a halt. There goes the funny jingle confirming your landing and welcoming you to your destination…a few more minutes taxiing and then the rush to get out.   

Perhaps what you had no time to realise was the physics behind it all. Upon landing 100 MJ of the aircraft’s kinetic energy have just been dissipated into braking force in around 30 s. That’s 3 MW of power. To put it into context, the landing of a single aircraft dissipates as much energy as 5 per cent of the total amount of PV’s on rooftops in Malta can generate. Not only that; taxiing the aircraft from the end of the runway to the gate would consume another 200 kg of fuel. 

What if there is a better way to land an aircraft? One which is more energy efficient, perhaps one where a portion of that energy could be stored and used later, rather than dissipated into braking?

These are the questions which our recently awarded research project KERS-air, is trying to address. The ability to capture and store a portion of the kinetic energy of a landing aircraft will be sufficient to allow the aircraft to taxi in and out of the airport gates, without further fuel consumption. If the entire fleet and turnaround times for the two dominant low cost airlines are considered, a cost saving of between 30M - 75M euros associated with taxiing could be made. It would also reduce the emissions on the ground by approx. 0.5M tonnes of CO2/year, improving the local air quality around airports.

KERSair is a three year research collaboration between the Institute of Aerospace Technologies, the Department of Industrial Electrical Power Conversion within the University of Malta, Medavia Ltd., and the University of Nottingham, UK. The project is led by Dr Robert Camilleri.

KERS-air (R&I-2017-005-T) is a EUR 195,000 project financed by the Malta Council for Science & Technology, for and on behalf of the Foundation for Science and Technology, through the FUSION: R&I Technology Development Programme.