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New plasma actuator geometry may help boost aerodynamic performance

19 October 2013

A new plasma actuator geometry may help to reduce noise and drag, and thus increase fuel efficiency, for a range of land vehicles and aircraft.

Comparison of turbulent flow structures over an aerofoil when a pulsed linear (left) and a serpentine (right) plasma actuator are used to control the flow (image: Mark Riherd, Applied Physics Research Group, University of Florida)

With the use of high voltage equipment, very small plasmas can be used to manipulate fluid flows. In recent years, the development of devices known as plasma actuators has advanced the promise of controlling flows in new ways that increase lift, reduce drag and improve aerodynamic efficiencies, advances that may lead to safer, more efficient and more quiet land and air vehicles.

Unlike other flow control devices, plasma actuator geometries can be easily modified. Now, a team at the University of Florida has developed what they term a 'serpentine' plasma actuator, the sinuous, ribbon-like curves of which appear to impart greater levels of versatility than traditional geometries used in plasma flow control devices.

"Our serpentine device will have applications in reducing drag-related fuel costs for an automobile or an aircraft, minimising the noise generated when flying over populated areas, mixing air-fuel mixtures for lean combustion, and enhancing heat transfer by generating local turbulence," says team member, Mark Riherd.

The team validated the complex, three-dimensional flow structures induced by their serpentine plasma actuators by comparing numerical results with recent physical experiments in non-moving air. They then simulated the effects of the actuators in a non-turbulent boundary layer and over a small aircraft wing. Further tests are needed, but early results suggest serpentine flow 'wrangling' may improve transportation efficiencies.

"This may result in significant weight and fuel savings for future aircraft and automobiles, improving energy efficiency all around," Riherd adds.

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