Could air travel ever be green? Sure it’s possible to take a solar powered plane from Japan all the way to Hawaii but you can’t do that on scale, it’s not possible with a massive airliner carrying hundreds of people and cargo. There have been efforts to test cleaner burning fuels to reduce environmental impact but for now it seems to be business as usual. Boeing has a plan to change this and it involves nuclear explosions and lasers.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recently approved a patent filed by Boeing which describes a jet engine that’s powered by lasers and nuclear explosions instead of fuel.
Existing Boeing aircraft rely upon turbofan engines which basically use multiple fans and turbines to compress air and ignite fuel. The engine that Boeing has dreamt up will use high-powered lasers to vaporize nuclear material inside a thruster.
This will cause nuclear fusion reactions and these small explosions will release high-energy neutrons which will in theory propel the aircraft forward. Excess heat would be used to power a turbine that recharges the laser system, effectively making this a self-powered engine.
Boeing mentions in the patent that it hopes in the future this new design might also be used to power missiles, rockets and even spacecraft. It’s certainly a novel idea, but making this happen in reality is probably going to demand quite a bit of work, which is obviously going to take a lot of time. Projects like the Lockheed Martin’s Compact Fusion could get the world there much sooner than anticipated.