New anti-icing technology deploys carbon nanotubes in aircraft coating

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Independent research and development organisation Battelle is in talks with OEMs and aircraft paint manufacturers about bringing to market new anti-icing technology that deploys carbon nanotubes into the airliner's coating.

Studied by Battelle since 2006, and formally launched as a Battelle programme last year, the new anti-icing product is billed by the firm as being "radically different from other ice prevention systems, such as bleed air, mechanical boot or weeping wing" systems in addition to being lighter and using "much less power".

The key innovation is how the carbon nanotubes are dispersed into a coating that goes on with the aircraft's standard paint, which then can be heated using available onboard power.

"When you put the paint on the aircraft, you have to run power to the paint so, as an initial offering to put it on the aircraft, you have to design and engineer the power controls to get the power to the paint and you'd offer that as a bundle. You can't offer the paint without bringing electricity to it," Battelle vice-president and operations manager John Ontiveros explained to FlightglobalPro.

"And then part of the design effort obviously would have to look at the operational conditions, so you have to do some icing modelling. You have to look at what point you hit icing conditions. So as part of the initial offering, you have to look at the entire operational envelope as part of your design for that aircraft."

That includes "looking at repair operations, looking at retrofitting, and also sustainment", he said, noting for example that "if you bring the aircraft in, and refurbish it, you'd have to reapply because you're taking off the old coats of paint".

Recent icing tunnel testing to validate the product's compatibility with existing coating systems was promising, according to Battelle. Early next year, the technology will head back to the icing tunnel to further verify the success. After that, Battelle expects to secure additional funding to continue the effort towards full operational status.

The firm sees applications for both manned and unmanned aircraft. Ontiveros said Battelle is "bullish" on a timeframe for offering the technology. "We felt this technology is maturing rapidly. And we anticipate within 18 to 24 months, it would probably be ready for unmanned operations. I'm not sure what the FAA requirements would be, and if that would add time to the application on other [civil] aircraft."