• Germany's news in English
 
jobs_header_v3

'Shark skin' jets cut fuel consumption

The Local · 17 Feb 2013, 10:39

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


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
VW bosses forced to pay back private jet costs

Bosses at troubled German auto giant Volkswagen have been forced to pay the company back millions of euros for flights on its private jets, the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday.

Germany arrests Marxist militant 'leader'
Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / DPA / AFP file picture

A radical Marxist suspected of belonging to a left-wing extremist group accused of terrorism by Turkey has been arrested in Germany, judicial sources said on Saturday.

Afghan teen arrested over German murder-rape
Photo: Hendrik Schmidt / DPA / AFP file picture

A teenage Afghan asylum seeker has been arrested on suspicion of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old female student in Germany, police and prosecutors said Saturday.

Nazi POW leaves estate to 'kind' Scottish village
The former German soldier stayed on to work in the Perthshire village for a time after the war. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP file picture

A former Nazi prisoner of war has left his entire estate in his will to a small village in Scotland to show his appreciation for the kindness he received there during his captivity.

US tries to block Chinese purchase of Aixtron
Photo: Oliver Berg / DPA / AFP

US President Barack Obama on Friday moved to block a Chinese company's purchase of German semiconductor equipment maker Aixtron by rejecting the inclusion of Aixtron's US business in the deal.

Merkel to chart 2017 election battle at party congress
Photo: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

After Donald Trump's shock victory, Francois Hollande's decision not to seek re-election and populism on the rise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is next up on the campaign podium to set out her strategy for winning in 2017 polls.

Berlin vs Munich: whose newborn polar bear is cuter?
Berlin's (left) and Munich's (right) newborn bears. Photos: Tierpark Berlin / DPA

Both city zoos welcomed baby polar bears into the world in November, with Berlin zoo its releasing first photos on Friday. But which one is more adorable?

Learn how to speak German like a silver screen icon
Dirty Harry. Photo: DPA

We all agree that there is no other option than to learn irregular German verbs by rote. But when you want a bit of downtime, why not learn from your big screen heroes?

Stolen Dachau 'Work will set you free' gate found: police
The entrance to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Photo: DPA

An iron gate from the former Nazi concentration camp in Germany's Dachau with the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work will set you free") has been found two years after it was stolen, police said Friday.

Mystery flight path artist draws new message in sky
Photo: DPA

A pilot who likes to draw patterns in the sky using his flight path has returned with his greatest artwork yet.

Lifestyle
10 German Christmas cookies you have to bake this winter
Sponsored Article
The key to launching your international career
Lifestyle
Our 10-step guide for doing Christmas just like a German
National
Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD
National
7 events in Germany that'll make December unforgettable
Lifestyle
7 frosty German sayings to make you a winter wordsmith
National
This is how unequal German society has become
National
Six things you should know about the Lufthansa strike
National
9 ways living in Germany will make you a better person
National
These 10 German Christmas markets cannot be missed
Features
8 German words that unlock amazing secrets in English
Culture
10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations
Lifestyle
7 things Germans do that make foreigners feel awkward
International
Why Donald Trump's grandad was booted out of Germany
National
This is what is really inside your Döner kebab
National
Rejoice! Christmas markets start opening across Germany
Education
These German universities are best at landing you a job
Travel
Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city
Lifestyle
This soppy German Christmas ad will bring you to tears
National
Here's where Germans speak the best (and worst) English
Culture
10 German books you have to read before you die
Culture
U-Bahn train found filled with autumn foliage in Berlin
Features
Seven German words that unlock amazing secrets about English
Travel
Germany's ten most beautiful towns you've never visited
6,591
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd