Grimsvotn volcano

University of Leicester studying volcanic ash and aircraft safety

University of Leicester researchers are studying what happens when volcanic ash particles are heated in jet engines

The researchers are looking at what happens when volcanic ash particles are heated in jet engines. Thermal Analysis and X-ray Computed Tomography are being used to analyse the temperature at which volcanic ash solidifies and melts.

The blades of aircraft engines operate at temperatures above their melting point and need a constant flow of cooling air blowing through tiny holes in the blades. The air floats onto the surface of the blades and forms a protective film that stops them reaching the same temperature as the combustion process of the engine. Volcanic ash can reach a temperature of 2,000˚C in the engine, and will melt. If it is sucked into the tiny holes in engine blades the melted ash solidifies to a layer of glass and blocks the ventilation holes, and the engine will fail because the blades then melt.

Dr Hongbiao Dong and Dr Mike Branney are leading the study, which combines engineering and volcanology. The researchers are working with two contrasting types of volcanic ash; measuring their melting temperature in a Differential Scanning Calorimeter then studying its morphology (structure) using X-ray Computed Tomography.

Volcanoes erupt frequently in Iceland and at other locations around the world, and the impact of ash on aviation can be considerable, depending on whether winds carry the ash across flight paths and airports.

The instrumentation used in this research is part of a new £1 million hi-tech engineering centre, MaTIC, that works with industry to drive innovation in materials technology.  The centre includes a range of advanced equipment for the understanding of materials behaviour.

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