Otago Polytechnic
ABE profile ConorLawrence 004

Flight time

Electrostatic forces might help improve aeroplane fuel performance.

How might the world make more efficient use of aviation fuel? Conor Lawrence, a Bachelor of Engineering Technology student, has been researching this issue under the supervision of Senior Lecturer William Phipps. It's based on the basic principle called the Biefeld-Brown effect which creates movement due to an acceleration of charged particles.

During 2018 Conor built an ionic lifter to demonstrate the possibilities. A high voltage power supply is connected to a wire at the top of the device, turning the wire into a positive electrode. A strip of tin foil at the bottom, also connected to the power source, becomes a negative electrode. Electrons from air particles near the wire are attracted to the positive electrode, turning those air particles into positively charged ions. The ions are then attracted to the negatively charged tin foil below. The downwards movement of the ions creates a jet stream that is powerful enough to achieve lift off for the device.

After that success Conor has gone on in 2019 to apply the technology to a model of an aircraft wing. First he measured the performance of the wing, both drag and lift, in a wind tunnel, looking at different angles of the wing. Then he added the electrodes, with a wire on the front of the wing and the tin foil on the back. Tests showed an increase and lift and a substantial decrease in the drag force on the wing. The idea is that this kind of ionic propulsion could be generated by an aeroplane's on-board generators, and would reduce the fuel required, especially for take-off. 

Conor presented his research at the 7th International Youth Conference on Energy 2019 in Europe in July, and received the best presentation award ahead of 67 Masters and PhD student presenters.

July 2019