New $29 million funding fuels hybrid-electric jet engine and other research projects

14 Sep 2017 - 09:05:03 in Research
Development of technology to help build the world’s first hybrid-electric passenger jet plane is among Victoria University of Wellington projects to receive nearly $29 million in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's 2017 Endeavour Fund.

Five Victoria projects have been successful in this year’s science investment round, announced this morning by Science and Innovation Minister Hon Paul Goldsmith.

Dr Rod Badcock from Victoria’s Robinson Research Institute is leading the jet plane project, which was awarded $6.3 million over five years.

The Institute is an international leader in the field of superconductivity—a key mechanism needed to develop cleaner aviation technologies, says Dr Badcock.

“Electric planes pose a big challenge as they will require very high-power propulsion systems which are subject to stringent weight constraints. Existing electrical machines are simply too heavy. The only feasible approach is high-torque, high-speed machines that employ high temperature superconductors.

“We’re planning to develop a motor for a Boeing 737-sized passenger plane. This will use an electric drive-train to connect high-speed electric motors with a fuel-powered generator running at maximum efficiency. A superconducting motor will deliver the all-important power-to-weight ratio.

Dr Badcock and his team will collaborate with experts in the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. “Flying is the most climate-intensive form of transport,” he says. “It’s important that a clean alternative is found—and fast. It would have a huge economic impact not only for New Zealand but around the world.”

Professor Colin Wilson from Victoria’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences is leading an $8.2 million five-year multi-institution consortium programme that aims to reduce the uncertainty around future supervolcano eruptions.

“Unlike normal-sized volcano systems, the behaviour, impacts and probabilities of supervolcano eruptions remain poorly understood around the world,” says Professor Wilson.

“Global hype assumes any activity at a supervolcano will lead to catastrophe—however, history and the geological record shows that their impacts can be managed. Our project will develop a new framework for estimating the size, timing and impacts of future unrest or eruptive events, and provide resources to improve education, resilience and decision-making for our communities.”

Dr Simon Hinkley from Victoria’s Ferrier Research Institute is leading a team that has been awarded $6.2 million over five years to generate new compounds for use in products that accelerate bone and tissue repair.

“Current therapies have undesirable side effects, low efficacy, high cost, low biological stability and dubious overall benefit,” explains Dr Hinkley.

“Our project will explore the use of complex sugars called heparan sulfates in producing more effective and rapid tissue regeneration. Heparan sulfate has been shown to be an essential ‘match-maker’ in coordinating growth factors that mediate the repair processes. With our partners at the University of Otago and in Singapore, we will build on our current research activities to develop materials that assist in tissue repair processes.”

Professor Tim Naish from Victoria’s Antarctic Research Centre is leading a project that will receive $7.1 million over five years to develop a national set of sea-level rise estimates.

Professor Naish says there is currently a number of knowledge gaps that are hampering our ability to anticipate and manage future sea-level rise in New Zealand—including a lack of understanding of the influence of vertical land movements and changes in sea-surface height.

“A team of leading experts will aim to address these knowledge gaps, and to generate a set of probabilistic sea-level rise scenarios. This will improve our assessment of the physical impacts and risks of increased coastal flooding and rising groundwater levels.”

In addition to the four successfully funded research programmes, Associate Professor Taehyun Rhee from Victoria’s Faculty of Engineering has been awarded Smart Ideas funding worth $1 million.

This three-year project will examine how to capture real-world lighting and reflections in augmented and mixed reality applications.

“Generating realistic representations of the world is essential for the visual effects industry to seamlessly blend virtual objects with real ones—but doing this accurately is very challenging,” says Associate Professor Rhee.

“We propose a novel method of automatically producing real-world lighting using what is called image-space analysis. Our project will ensure far more realistic visual output in immersive augmented and mixed reality and will vastly improve the visual quality for interactive applications including computer games, virtual simulation and training.”

Victoria’s performance in this year’s Endeavour Fund represents 12 percent of the total $248 million awarded to 68 projects from 17 universities, research institutes and other organisations.

“This is a stunning result for Victoria and testament to the quality of our science and technology at New Zealand’s number one-ranked university for research excellence,” says Professor Mike Wilson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science.

Professor Kate McGrath, Vice-Provost (Research), says the result reflects the exceptional leadership of Victoria's researchers in the scholarly community and beyond.

“Our researchers are utilising an expanding base of fundamental science and engineering to create valuable solutions to global problems and to boost high-value manufacturing in New Zealand.”

More information on the 2017 Endeavour Fund can be found at: