Next Tech — Ionic Thrusters?


Researchers at MIT have been experimenting with ionic thrusters and say their results show the technology may potentially provide a “far more efficient source of propulsion than conventional jet engines.” In a news release posted in April, the university said Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and his research team have published a paper about their experiments, in which they found that “ionic wind” produces 110 newtons of thrust per kilowatt, compared with a jet engine’s 2 newtons per kilowatt. “Ionic wind” is the colloquial term to describe the phenomenon known as electrohydrodynamic thrust, or a wind which is produced when a current passes between two electrodes – one thinner than the other. If enough voltage is applied, the resulting wind can produce a thrust without the help of motors or fuel, according to MIT.

Barrett said he believes that ionic wind has the potential to be used as a propulsion system for small, lightweight aircraft. In addition to their relatively high efficiency, ionic thrusters are silent, and invisible in infrared, as they give off no heat — ideal traits, he says, for a surveillance vehicle. “You could imagine all sorts of military or security benefits to having a silent propulsion system with no infrared signature,” Barrett said. More details about the technology are posted in the MIT news release.