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Three research projects from the University of Central Florida have been selected for NASA Minority University Research and Education Project Partnership Annual Notification (MPLAN) awards. The grants, worth up to $50,000 each, are designed to connect and promote research collaborations between Minority Serving Institutions and NASA Mission Directorates.

A total of 18 projects received Phase I funding across 15 universities. UCF received the most awards, with all three housed within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Dean Michael Georgiopoulos says this speaks to the quality of research produced by CECS faculty.

“I’m proud to see that three of our research teams have been recognized by NASA for their innovative ideas that can shape the future of air travel and space flight,” Georgiopoulos says. “Our college has built a rich history with NASA and this award further solidifies the partnership between our respective researchers.”

All Phase I award recipients will be eligible to compete for Phase II funding and University Leadership Initiatives and Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grants. Learn more about the projects below.

Project Title: SUPERSAF-SAF for Low Emission Supersonic Transport

Award Amount: $50,000

Researchers: Subith Vasu, Justin Urso, Ramees Khaleel Rahman, Gihun Kim

Supersonic commercial aircraft may be able to fly faster than the speed of sound and reduce the time for transatlantic journeys considerably, but their ultra-fast flights powered by fossil fuels could have a harmful effect on the environment. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Subith Vasu and his team of postdoctoral scholars aim to protect the environment by studying the emissions of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), a greener alternative made from sustainable resources such as wood residues, fatty acids, fermented sugars and processed alcohols.

Several government agencies have started to test these fuels for emissions, but the process is costly and doesn’t measure the output of nitrogen oxides (NOx) or the formation of soot, both of which can pollute the air, contribute to the formation of acid rain, and even cause respiratory issues in humans.

The team in the Vasu Lab will conduct shock tube experiments to test the NOx and soot emissions of several different SAFs. That data will be used to improve the aviation industry’s and NASA’s current chemical kinetic models that can predict the soot and NOx output of various SAFs in flight conditions.

“SAFs can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80%, but not all SAFs produce lesser soot and NOx compared to traditional jet fuels,” Vasu says. “The data we collect could significantly improve the current chemical kinetic model and advance the production of combustors for supersonic flights.”

The research is timely, given NASA recently awarded contracts to both Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop technology roadmaps and concept vehicles for supersonic aircraft. Vasu plans to work with industry partners on this research and to seek additional funding from NASA beyond the MPLAN grant.