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Impact of Sand and Dust on Engines

Project Description

Sand and dust from arid regions is increasingly a problem for aircraft gas turbine engines, both military and civil. It causes a number of different damage mechanisms, some of which accelerate the loss of engine efficiency, causing increased fuel burn, and a substantial reduction in component life, requiring early and expensive removal of engines for repair. The primary damage mechanisms affecting performance are erosion in high speed compressors and deposit buildup on turbine aerofoils. The primary damage mechanisms affecting component life (in the combustor and turbines) are corrosion-fatigue of nickel super alloys (when combined with atmospheric sulphur and NaCl), and CaO-MgO-Al2O3-SiO2 (CMAS) damage to ceramic thermal barrier coatings and blockage of intricate cooling systems. The financial impact of these problems on companies like Rolls-Royce is running into multiple billions of pounds. Rolls-Royce’s business model depends on understanding the rate of engine performance and component life deterioration so the company can set the service charge rate correctly, and ultimately find design solutions to mitigate the damage. Rolls-Royce makes the bulk of its income from service – or power-by-the-hour – contracts with airlines. Charging airlines that regularly operate in sandy and dusty environments an appropriate hourly rate is vital to the Company’s viability.
Substantial scientific work is being undertaken by both Rolls-Royce and The University of Manchester to better understand the composition and physical characteristics of atmospheric sand and dust along frequently used flight routes. This is because it is the composition and physical characteristics of sand and dust that drive the various damage mechanisms. However, our recent research has revealed that it is not sufficient to only understand the composition and nature of dust in the atmosphere because the chemical and mineral composition, physical characteristics and particle size distribution changes as sand and dust travels through a gas turbine engine. This ICASE project will focus on understanding the processes driving the changes in the sand and dust as it travels through a gas turbine engine intake, compression system and secondary air system before it gets to the damage sites in the combustor and turbines.
These processes require an understanding of the chemistry, thermodynamics, particle break-up, transport and differential fractionation under centrifugal loading of sand and dust particles. This project will involve an experimental study of key aspects of these processes and will contribute vital data needed to develop a computer model of the sand and dust transformation processes. Existing empirical evidence from a controlled Trent 900 dust test will be augmented by additional controlled engine dust tests (to be conducted by Rolls-Royce but made available to you). Evidence will also be made available from service engines that have been operating in a limited number of dusty environments with known dust characteristics. Engine samples will be analysed for particle size distribution and mineral composition using SEM, EDX and XRD techniques. Laboratory level testing of dust samples in simple rigs will also be undertaken; e.g. heating different mineral mixtures to engine representative temperatures in a furnace.
The ultimate goal of the project is to: (i) Use the data produced in your study in a computer model to suggest ways of modifying the engine’s operational use to mitigate the damaging effects of sand and dust. (ii) Explore engine design solutions utilising novel chemistry and physical process effects to militate the damage mechanisms. It is expected that an understanding of the underlying chemistry and physical processes will open up a wide range of novel solution options.

Funding Notes

This project is suitable for a student who has a first degree in either geology, chemistry or materials science. You will be trained in the use of state-of-the-art experimental and analytical equipment available in the Departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and MACE at The University of Manchester. The studentship will include a placement at Rolls-Royce, involving learning about engine operation and examining contamination on engine components following operation in dusty environments. The supervisory team of both earth scientists and engineers at The UoM and Rolls-Royce, makes this an exciting project which will have impact in the aviation industry.


Elms J.A., Pawley A., Bojdo N., Jones M., Clarkson R., The Formation Of High Temperature Minerals From An Evaporite-Rich Dust In Gas Turbine Engine Ingestion Tests, Proceedings of ASME Turbo Expo 2020 Turbomachinery Technical Conference and Exposition GT2020, June 22-26, 2020, London, UK
Bojdo, N., Ellis, M., Filippone, A., Jones, M., & Pawley, A., 2019, Particle-Vane Interaction Probability in Gas Turbine Engines. Journal of Turbomachinery, 141(9).

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.13

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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