This week Airbus will reveal the winner of its second "Fly Your Ideas" (FYI) student research competition at the Paris air show, after the manufacturer invited young people around the globe to come up with fresh ideas to make aviation more environmentally friendly.

Five teams from Asia, Europe and South America with three to six members each have been shortlisted. The groups were chosen from more than 2,600 students in 75 countries who participated in the first, questionnaire-based selection process between September and December last year.

The second round, from January until March, saw 72 of the 315 initial teams proceeding to the next stage, where the students had to develop their ideas further, quantify the potential environmental benefits and produce short videos to portray their work in a creative way.

The five finalists will present their projects to a jury of Airbus representatives and external panellists at Le Bourget on 22 June, with the winners being announced the following day. First prize is €30,000 ($42,000) plus a trip to the airframer, and the second award is €15,000.

While a large number of submissions have, unsurprisingly, come from engineering students, Dale King, engineering coordinator for the FYI award, says the airframer was "very keen" to have contributions from students of other faculties and backgrounds, such as humanities. "The key is we want them to think about the aviation industry and come up with their own ideas of how things can be improved," he says.

The competition did not focus on aircraft alone but was open for suggestions in any area of aviation, be it manufacturing, operations, airports, the surrounding infrastructure, maintenance or end-of-life disposal of aircraft.

Among the finalists is Team Condor - one woman and two men studying at the Universidad Técnia Federico Santa María in Chile, who devised a wind turbine, buried below the wing spoilers, which can generate electrical power when the control surfaces are operated.

The idea of this "energy recovery speed brake" (ERSB) is to save some of the energy that is lost when the spoilers are selected to slow down the aircraft, be it in the air or on the ground, to increase its rate of descent. The proposal comprises a cylindrical, four-bladed impeller installed along the full length of the cavity, below the speed brake. This is driven by an air stream coming through a gap between the bottom of the spoiler and wing surface. The generated electricity is to be either consumed by other aircraft systems or stored in batteries.

The team built wind tunnel models of the respective wing section and found out that the design would not create additional drag or change the lift condition of the existing wing. To underline the environmental benefit, they even greased the ERSB's moving parts with a biodegradable lubricant.

Team Wings, one woman and five men studying at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China, also want to harness wind power - albeit not on aircraft, but on the ground. They came up with a concept to generate electricity from aircraft wakes with wind generators along the edges of runways.

As conventional wind turbines would not be safe and practical close to manoeuvring aircraft, the team came up with an alternative device that employs a single, leaf-shaped aerofoil, which is standing upright on a subterranean base unit and is rocked by the aircraft's wake. A spring-loaded mechanical linkage converts this swinging motion into a circular movement to drive a generator. To ensure that the installation poses no safety threat, the leaf has been designed to fall flat on the ground if it is hit by an aircraft that has accidentally left the runway.

The students calculated that, if the leaf devices were installed in a series along the runway edge, up to 4kWh could be generated during each landing or takeoff. This energy could either be employed for airport installations such as runway lighting, or fed into the electricity network to reduce the load on the local power station.

Team Msia on Mars, from the Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology at Kuala Lumpur University, have sought to reduce the environmental impact of thermal and acoustic insulation blankets in aircraft cabins. Conventional glass fibre-based blankets are costly to manufacture but, more importantly, are not biodegradable - and thus lead to increasing waste.

The three male students suggested employing fibres of the kapok tree - a traditional filler for pillows and mattresses. They claim the material is not only lighter than cotton and more buoyant than cork, but also water repellent and resists rotting.

The team conducted acoustic and thermal tests, as well as flammability experiments, to see whether the material can comply with airworthiness requirements. For the latter, they employed an environmentally friendly, off-the-shelf fire retardant substance to reduce the flammability of the natural fibres.

Three students of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, who named themselves O3, have worked on a water-repellent surface coating to prevent aircraft icing. The all-male team calculated that airlines spend $1-10 million on environmentally harmful anti-icing fluid on each aircraft per year.

Inspired by the water-repelling surface of the lotus leaf, the young scientists worked on different formulations for a polymer coating which would be suitable for the operating environment of aircraft. The tests also assessed ways of increasing the coating's adhesive strength.

Aside from removing the need to spray aircraft with anti-icing fluid before takeoff, the students suggested that such a coating would also make on board anti-icing equipment for airfoil leading edges and engine air intakes obsolete, and thus save weight.

The fifth team, (SSE), comes from the Stockholm School of Economics, and proposed a points system on the environmental performance of different airlines. The four men and one women from Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United States and Zimbabwe say that the scheme would allow travellers to choose flights with the smallest carbon footprint, and hence give operators an additional incentive to invest in fuel efficient aircraft.

The team focussed not only on differences in specific fuel consumption between airline fleets, but also evaluated other variables such as maintenance, the environmental performance of airports and end-of-life disposal of aircraft.

A far-sighted aspect of their research will see the students suggest the use of social media to promote their "ECO" points scheme, and make it more relevant among consumers and suppliers.

An additional prize for the best video went to Team Ecolution from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, who proposed using a natural fibre-reinforced plastic jute composite as building material for aircraft cargo containers.

The objective for the competition was to generate fresh ideas and interest among students to engage with the aviation industry. While completely unfeasible proposals beyond the limits of physics were unlikely to succeed, students were invited to come up with ideas which might be on the border of practicality and to develop them further towards meeting aviation requirements.

"Whether these ideas ultimately find their way onto aircraft was not a primary concern," says King. "It is not a competition for professional researchers or a source for specific ideas for our [Airbus'] research and technology programme."

Nevertheless, after the last FYI competition in 2009, the airframer took the two winning submissions further in internal follow-up research projects. The first group proposed building cabin interior components from bio-composite materials made from the castor plant, while the second team looked at how migrating birds save energy through flying in formation.

However, even if most teams will see their work reach that stage, it is the participation in such a competition which counts - and this creates far more winners than merely two teams.

Source: Flight Daily News