Rolls-Royce, State, Purdue Fund New Test Tunnels For Tiny Turbines

Jun 19, 2017

Rolls-Royce and the state are chipping in to expand Purdue University’s work on making small gas-powered turbine engines more efficient.

The company already opened one big facility at Purdue this year. Now, it’s investing another $10 million into two new wind tunnels at Purdue’s turbine research lab.

Mechanical engineering professor Guillermo Paniagua leads the research there. He explains what gas turbine engines do.

“You are burning some fuel, and when you burn, you create some heat,” he says. “We are converting that heat into a rotor that is spinning … and we can convert that mechanical spinning into electricity.”

Purdue already has a wind tunnel that can perform basic tests on standard engines, he says.

But the turbines in small aircraft or helicopters are tiny – maybe a foot wide, with fan blades less than an inch long. That made them hard to study, until now.

Paniagua says the wind tunnels Rolls-Royce is funding will let his team test those turbines – and ways to streamline them by making them more aerodynamic or easier to keep cool – in ways no other lab can.

Purdue is contributing $8 million dollars to the project, on top of $6 million dollars in state funding. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Rolls-Royce leadership are also touting the partnership at the International Paris Air Show this week.

The lab will offer what Paniagua calls “unique testing capabilities” to Rolls-Royce, as well as maybe the Air Force, NASA or Department of Energy.

But he says it’s not all about commercial applications.

“We are going to train generations of engineers in what should be the technology of all the future engines,” he says. “So then the students that come to Purdue, they know they are acquiring knowledge that can be applicable into the industry.”

State officials say Indiana is home to 80 aerospace companies that employ about 7,000 Hoosiers. More than half work at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.