• Germany's news in English
 

'Shark skin' jets cut fuel consumption

Published: 17 Feb 2013 10:39 GMT+01:00

Germany's biggest airline Lufthansa announced earlier this month that two of its Airbus A340-300 jets would take part in trials starting this summer to test the properties of shark skin in flight.

For the two-year trials, eight 10 by 10 centimetre (4 by 4 inch) patches of a new type of coating are being painted on to the fuselage and wing edges of the aircraft.

A new state-of-the-art varnish, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (FAM) in Bremen, attempts to mimic the skins of fast-swimming sharks.

The sharks' skin is covered in tiny riblets that reduce turbulent vortices and the drag they cause, thereby diminishing surface resistance when moving at speed.

The phenomenon of the streamlined shark skin has been known for about 30 years and has fascinated research scientists in a wide range of fields, from military applications to aerospace and aeronautics and from naval construction to wind technology.

More recently, its use in sports such as swimming and athletics has brought the special properties of shark skin to much wider attention.

High-tech swimsuits were developed that enabled athletes to move ever faster through water, breaking one swimming record after the next until the suits were eventually banned as unfair in competition.

In the past, says Volkmar Stenzel, the project's head at the Fraunhofer Institute, sheets of plastic imitation shark skin were glued to the aircraft's exterior.

"But the foil had major disadvantages: it was rather heavy and the added weight cancelled out the amount of fuel that could be saved," Stenzel said. "Also, it was difficult to stick the foil to curved surfaces without creasing and wrinkling," he said.

Another problem was that aircraft have to be stripped of their paint and recoated every five years "and that was just not possible with these foils," the expert explained.

Thus, in collaboration with European aircraft maker Airbus and the DLR German Aerospace Center, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a new technique to emboss the structures of shark skin into aircraft paints.

The idea is to make surfaces more aerodynamic and reduce fuel consumption by about one percent and lower operating costs.

The trials on Lufthansa jets represent the last phase before possible industrial application, said Denis Darracq, head of research and flight physics technology at Airbus.

Cutting fuel consumption

"The expected results have been achieved in terms of performance. It's now a matter of measuring operational efficiency and durability," Darracq said. "An airline must not have to clean its aircraft after every flight. The paint needs to last for several years," he said.

The engineer estimated that if an aircraft was covered by between 40-70 percent in the new paint, it can cut fuel consumption by around one percent for very little outlay.

And with high fuel prices and customers becoming increasingly sensitive to the environmental impact of flying, that would represent an "enormous benefit" for an airline, Darracq argued.

Nature is also the inspiration for another state-of-the-art technology that is already being used by the industry and may have wider applications.

The leaf of the lotus plant has a unique microstructure consisting of tiny bumps topped with tiny hairs that make the leaf highly water repellent.

Special surface coatings have been developed to mimic this effect and they are already used in the interior of the A380 to make it easier to clean. But Airbus is also looking into whether such coatings can be used on the exterior of aircraft as well.

"De-icing is a real problem for planes and represents a substantial cost factor. If there were surfaces where water cannot collect, they wouldn't freeze over and that would represent a big step forward," said Darracq.

Airlines' growing interest could therefore help accelerate research in surface technologies "and these may be ready for industrial application in a number of years," the engineer said.

AFP/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

14:08 February 17, 2013 by japanboy
It is very encouraging that science allows us to evolve the technology. Reduce the resistance with a coating having the properties of shark skin is very ingenious. I imagine that the investment is heavy but if it helps to save fuel and reduce atmosphere pollution, so I am all for it :-) it is also possible at minor cost to save fuel for his car? There are HHO Plus technology, which thanks to the mixture of hydrogen in the fuel can ride longer with a full tank of gas? Simply mount HHO kit to the engine and voila. More info on this page: http://www.hho-plus.com/reduce-fuel-consumption Before installing shark skin on our cars, this is a good trick to save fuel ...
21:46 February 17, 2013 by ovalle3.14
Will ticket prices go down too?
04:04 February 18, 2013 by Eric1
EU: we gotta tax that!
08:24 February 18, 2013 by Englishted
@Eric1

I don't like many things in the E.U. but I don't believe that they impose tax .

The governments of the member states do that.
21:57 February 18, 2013 by PreetDesai
Wow! Second article I read where inspiration comes from nature. Hopefully future technology helps speed up the process of understanding and implementing research into everyday life it in a cost effective manner.
05:43 February 19, 2013 by Tracker Green
Assuming that the shark-skin technology keeps reducing air resistance to increase fuel efficiency, it appears a natural path to add it to certain motor vehicles. Imagine one of the mega interstate or inter-provincial transport fleets saving 1.0% of their annual fuel bill. Very commendable project. In the meantime if your vehicle has not reached that level of aerodynamic efficiency, then drivers should see how their gas mileage is doing to beat the ever increasing gas prices by using http://www.trackmygreen.com/ .

Tracker Green of http://blog.trackmygreen.com/
05:39 February 21, 2013 by rwk
It is not clear that autos would have as much benefit from such increased aerodynamics as aircraft, as they travel at significantly lower speeds.
14:51 February 24, 2013 by ron1amr
This technology is and has been used in racing bikes. Where the frame has been painted or in the resin to make the bike more aerodynamic. But as far as saving on fuel, the increase of people and air travel offset emissions saved. There has however been a successful flight where a plane ran on bio fuel. If all flights were to use bio fuel say if plane flights account for 1 or 2 % world emissions but because of their high altitude it raises to about 10%. The only thing will we be able to produce enough bio fuel? If you look at a golf ball it travels well in the air. You could have a car with a lot of holes in it so the air circulates well.
Today's headlines
'Blackfacing' is Anglicism of the Year
They may be collecting for charity, but this is not really OK. Photo: DPA

'Blackfacing' is Anglicism of the Year

"Blackfacing", used by Germans to describe white people painting their skin dark to mimic black people, has been named Anglicism of the Year by a jury of linguists. READ  

Cocaine-cop trial shakes Bavarian Alps
File photo: DPA

Cocaine-cop trial shakes Bavarian Alps

For 20 years no-one noticed that the head of the drug squad in Kempten, Bavaria, was on a personal rampage of narcotics- and domestic abuse - until his wife shopped him for the €250,000 brick of cocaine he had stashed. But the local population isn't buying the story. READ  

Merkel wishes Tsipras 'strength and success'
Photo: DPA

Merkel wishes Tsipras 'strength and success'

Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Greece's new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday and wished him "much strength and success" after his anti-austerity party's election victory. READ  

Refugees suffer over 200 attacks in 2014
Swastika graffiti at a refugee home in Bavaria with text reading "No asylum seekers". Photo: DPA

Refugees suffer over 200 attacks in 2014

Refugee NGOs' first annual report on violence against asylum seekers found that there were over 200 attacks on people and accommodation in 2014. READ  

'No German identity without Auschwitz'
President Gauck addressing the Bundestag on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Photo: DPA

'No German identity without Auschwitz'

President Joachim Gauck on Tuesday warned Germans against drawing a line under the Holocaust as the Bundestag (parliament) opened a day of commemorations on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. READ  

Handball! Neuer blows whistle on wax double
Manuel Neuer at the inauguration of his double in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Handball! Neuer blows whistle on wax double

Madame Tussauds' hottest new effigy was unveiled to the public in Berlin on Tuesday, costing a euro for each of the 150,000 hairs on keeper Manuel Neuer's head. Pity about the handball goal frame though… READ  

Railway union threatens strike over €2
EVG members outside a station during a 2013 strike. Photo: DPA

Railway union threatens strike over €2

As railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) continues negotiations with train drivers' union GDL, its other major union EVG has threatened a strike over pay differences between employees. READ  

Dresden tolerance concert draws 22,000
Photo: DPA

Dresden tolerance concert draws 22,000

As Pegida supporters and opponents clashed in Hanover, musicians threw a free concert in central Dresden on Monday evening to show another side to the city famous for spawning the anti-Islam movement. READ  

Germany remembers horror of Auschwitz
"Work will set you free," the gate at Auschwitz-Birkenau tells inmates. Photo: DPA

Germany remembers horror of Auschwitz

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Berlin on Monday to open a series of events dedicated to the end of the Holocaust camp regime 70 years ago. READ  

JobTalk Germany: Entrepreneur series
'Work I love and a rewarding family life'
Working mum photo: Shutterstock

'Work I love and a rewarding family life'

Melanie Fieseler is a British business/career consultant and coach, and founder of Berlin-based WorkSmart. She is on a mission to help ambitious mums like herself successfully combine motherhood with building a fulfilling and rewarding career or business. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,420
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd