Pulse Detonation Engines (PDEs) use detonation waves to ignite an engine’s fuel and oxidizer while simultaneously pulsing new mixtures of the two into an engine’s combustion chamber. In theory this thermodynamic cycle is much more efficient than gas-turbine engines.
RDEs differ from PDEs in that they produce thrust by creating a detonation wave that continuously pressurizes the combustion chamber. By not having to continuously pulse a combustion chamber to create adequate pressure for combustion RDEs improve their operating efficiency.
The Naval Research Laboratory, an advanced technological development arm of the U.S. Navy, is currently studying the potential benefits of Rotating Detonation Engines (RDEs).
Unlike typical gas turbine engines that run on the Brayton cycle, RDEs have a thermodynamic cycle that more closely resembles the thermodynamics of Pulse Detonation Engines.
In an article posted on the NRL website, Donna McKinney makes the case that using RDEs could translate into massive savings for the US Navy’s fleet.
“NRL researchers believe that RDEs have the potential to meet 10% increased power requirements as well as 25% reduction in fuel use for future Navy applications. Currently there are about 430 gas turbine engines on 129 U.S. Navy ships. These engines burn approximately 2 billion dollars worth of fuel each year. By retrofitting these engines with the rotating detonation technology, researchers estimate that the Navy could save approximately 300 to 400 million dollars a year.”
With the US Navy taking on a leading role in the future of the US military strategy, finding ways to efficiently operate its fleet will become ever more critical.