Since the beginning of commercial flight, airports searched for ways to dampen the incredible noise airplanes make when taking off or landing. The roaring decibels might actually be used to help the airport, an engineer at Boeing suggests in a recent invention patent.
Boeing has made a staple out of its patents, promoting itself as one of the most forward-thinking companies. The R & D expert has developed nuclear- and laser-powered jet engines, force fields for autos and even a drone-targeting laser cannon. Employee Chin Toh surprised everyone with a new proposal: how about producing electricity from airport acoustical energy?
"There has been no way to recycle the acoustic energy generated by aircraft during takeoffs and landings," Toh points out. "This acoustic energy is left to dissipate and represents a lost energy resource."
In Toh's proposal, the racket caused by aircraft that take off would be harvested and transformed into electrical energy, which can then be used to power up the airport.
The implications are important in terms of money and logistics. Runways would receive an overhaul and their borders would be lined with "acoustic wave collectors." These devices catch and collect the vibrations caused by a plane engine's noise. The acoustic energy is then converted into air flow, which in turn powers a turbine. A generator coupled to the turbine's rotating shaft generates electricity, which is sent to a substation and distributed to where it is needed.
A few years back, an experiment at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol proved that runway uproar can be subdued using basic acoustics. For now, only the major airports are resourceful enough to use advanced noise-breaking mechanisms. The popularity of sound collectors may increase if the technology makes the implementation profitable.
David Cohen-Tanugi from MIT's Materials Science and Engineering department already suggested that the harvesting of sound energy is miles behind photovoltaics, the conversion of solar energy into electricity. Sounds that are distressing to human ears actually contain a low level of energy, Cohen-Tanugi says. In comparison, the energy from sunbeams hitting Earth is nearly 700 times more powerful. Nevertheless, he admits that the idea promises to be useful in the future.
Toh's patent might have to wait until the technology for gathering energy from sound waves improves. Until then, noise remains an example of unused resources that are just next to us, waiting to be harnessed.