• Germany edition
 
'Shark skin' jets cut fuel consumption
Photo: DPA

'Shark skin' jets cut fuel consumption

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

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a flying shark skin. The German aviation industry believes the ocean's oldest predator could hold the key to developing more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient aircraft. AFP's Etienne Balmer reports.

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

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
Germany's oldest woman dies aged 112
Gertrud Henze. Photo: DPA

Germany's oldest woman dies aged 112

Germany’s oldest woman died at the age of 112 on Tuesday. Gertrud Henze was born on December 8th 1901 and joked her long life was down to never getting married. READ () »

Exchange student 'murderer' stays silent
Police search the area near where Gabriele's body was found in October 2013. Photo: DPA

Exchange student 'murderer' stays silent

The alleged murderer of an exchange student in southern Germany stayed silent in the dock on Tuesday on the first day of his trial. READ () »

European Elections 2014
'If Britain goes, Europe is lost'
Hans-Olaf Henkel (r) celebrates the one-year anniversary of the AfD with leader Bernd Lücke. Photo: DPA

'If Britain goes, Europe is lost'

In an interview with The Local, one of the leaders of Germany's eurosceptic party talks about Europe's future, why Britain is a model country and why he will not work with UKIP's Nigel Farage. READ () »

Girls find live munition in Easter bonfire
Nane, with her father and a picture of the cartridge-laden wood. Photo: DPA

Girls find live munition in Easter bonfire

Two 12-year-old German girls found live ammunition lodged into a branch in an Easter bonfire. It was due to be lit the next day, potentially igniting the cartridges and causing disaster. READ () »

Opinion
'Fracking won't save Germany from Putin'
Photo: DPA

'Fracking won't save Germany from Putin'

Germany's reliance on Russian gas continues to limit the nation's diplomatic leverage in the Ukraine crisis. But as leaders once again explore fracking as an alternative, critics told The Local the risks were too high. READ () »

German rapper-turned-jihadist 'killed in Syria'
Deso Dogg. Photo: YouTube screenshot

German rapper-turned-jihadist 'killed in Syria'

UPDATE: A German former rapper who joined jihadists fighting in Syria was reported dead on Tuesday by jihadist sources, but hours later some retracted the claim, saying he was still alive. READ () »

Have Your Say
Who should pay for Germany’s roads?
Photo: DPA

Who should pay for Germany’s roads?

A top politician's suggestion that drivers should be charged €100 a year towards the upkeep of Germany's roads was met with derision on Tuesday. But how should Germany fill the black hole it its infrastructure budget? READ () »

Tax income hits March record
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Tax income hits March record

A record amount of cash flowed into German government coffers in March thanks to land, beer and incomes taxes, a monthly report from the finance ministry revealed on Tuesday. READ () »

Union bosses call for later starts in World Cup
Photo: DPA

Union bosses call for later starts in World Cup

German unions called on Tuesday for shift workers to be granted later starts during the football World Cup in Brazil this summer. Some of the matches begin at midnight due to the time difference. READ () »

Parents' house burnt as son went clubbing
Photo: DPA

Parents' house burnt as son went clubbing

A man who had thrown a party at his parents' empty mansion over Easter in central Germany returned after clubbing to find the entire building on fire. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Society
Crystal meth use hits record level
Photo: DPA
Rhineland
Elderly man taped €200,000 to his genitals
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
What's the unemployment rate in your area of Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt
Gallery
World War I in colour photos
Photo: DPA
Society
JobTalk: Why you should teach English in Germany
Photo: DPA
National
330,000 sign up against TV licence fee
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
School kids hospitalized after 'porno' party
Photo: Submitted
Frankfurt
'I'll get even with my old pal Schwarzenegger'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten great inventions you (probably) didn't know were German
Photo: J. Arthur White
Berlin
Clashes in Berlin as refugees tear down their own camp
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Munich's baby polar bears are finally named
Advertisement:
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The 10 best German employers to work for
CurrencyFair
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Mr. Lodge
Sponsored Article
How to find a furnished rental in Munich
Sponsored Article
How to make a lasting impression in business
Hult International Business School
Sponsored Article
What they don't teach you at Business School
Photo: DPA
Society
Nine jobs you can only do in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

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

3,050
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd