Engineering news

The foam that stops bullets and Cornwall approaches orbit: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl jet with the Launcher One rocket (Credit: Virgin Orbit)
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl jet with the Launcher One rocket (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

HS2 train designs arrive

Railway Gazette

The potential futures for the UK's high speed rail were set out this week, with four bidders for the HS2 rolling stock contract unveiling their proposals. The winning bid will reportedly be selected early next year, before a planned start to operations in 2026. The £56bn project could face trouble before then however, with controversy still surrounding many aspects of the work.

Hybrid flight reaches new heights

New Atlas

Los Angeles company Ampaire has claimed to fly the world's largest hybrid-propulsion plane. Based on the Cessna 337 Skymaster, the six-seat vehicle has a combustion engine and a battery-powered electric motor. Test flights will reportedly inform the development of a new prototype plane ahead of potential commercial operation. 

'Burning jet fuel is better for the environment than putting plastic into landfill'

Professional Engineering

Melted down bottles and shopping bags could one day power jet planes after researchers successfully converted plastic rubbish into usable fuel. Landfills in the US received 23.6m tonnes of plastic in 2015, said the team from Washington State University (WSU), while they cited “conservative” estimates of at least 4.4m tonnes of plastic entering the oceans every year. Engineer Hanwu Lei told Professional Engineering: "I believe burning jet fuel is better for the environment than putting plastic into landfill or entering the water. The jet fuel produced from waste plastic is pretty clean due to the low sulphur content."

'Another crushing blow' for struggling UK automotive sector

Professional Engineering

Ford’s closure of its Bridgend factory will be “another crushing blow” for the automotive sector, a trade organisation has said. The Bridgend Engine Plant, which employs about 1,700 people in South Wales, will likely close by late 2020 after a consultation. The multinational said the move is needed to make the company more efficient, and it blamed falling demand for engine production at the plant. Many online were quick to blame Brexit, and the business uncertainty that has now existed for several years.

£20m to get Cornwall into orbit


Plans for Virgin Orbit to launch satellites from Newquay Airport in Cornwall came a step closer this week, as the government and Cornwall Council said they are prepared to invest up to £20m. A Virgin Orbit jet called Cosmic Girl could give rockets a lift towards orbit from the early 2020s.

Putting waste heat to use

The Engineer

Researchers from Swansea University have 3D-printed a 'thermoelectric' device, which can convert waste heat into useful electricity. Although the tin selenide device is reportedly only 9.5% efficient, that could equate to a significant amount of energy in high-temperature industries such as steelmaking. 

Let's go fly a kite

Professional Engineering

Almost €15m of EU funding could help the installation of one of the UK’s biggest tidal energy plants, an 80MW farm using tethered ‘kite’ turbines. The €14.9m (£13.2m) European Regional Development Fund was awarded to Minesto through the Welsh government. The money will help support the Swedish company’s development in Wales, where it has installed a 0.5MW system in the Holyhead Deep tidal stream.

Flying ahead: Boeing invests in repair centres for flying taxis and drones

Professional Engineering

Boeing has taken a step to secure future drone operations and urban air mobility by investing in a company that provides a global network of repair centres. The world’s largest aerospace company is developing an autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle, commonly known as an air or flying taxi. This week, it announced an investment in Robotic Skies, a start-up that promotes itself as the only global network of certified unmanned aerial vehicle maintenance centres.

The bullet-stopping foam

New Atlas

A team from North Carolina State University have created a metal foam capable of stopping bullets. The composite metal foam is reportedly as tough as conventional armour, but only weighs half as much. 

Roboats, assemble! Self-assembling boats to build bridges and move deliveries

Professional Engineering

Rectangular robotic boats – ‘roboats’ – have successfully moved and docked together autonomously, paving the way for a flexible system of aquatic platforms, bridges and water-borne rubbish trucks. Working with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, MIT created the first roboat prototype three years ago. Now, its 3D-printed, one-quarter scale devices can identify and automatically connect to docking stations such as other boats. In the future, a fleet of autonomous boats could transport goods and people, collect rubbish or even self-assemble into floating bridges or stages.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Professional Engineering magazine

Current Issue: Issue 6, 2019

Screenshot 2019-09-16 at 16.23.20

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download the Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to the Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles