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Nanotechnology's first big aerospace application may be in paint

Nanotechnology is an umbrella term referring to the manipulation of materials on the scale of nanometres, or billionths of a metre.

But as Martin Kemp, the UK's Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network aerospace champion, notes this has become an umbrella term as broad as "green technology", and as such its potential is not widely understood, even by designers who might be able to enhance product performance with nano-enabled chemicals.

Apart from the electrochromic windows on Boeing 787s, which work thanks to a nano coating, or the carbon nanotube-based material being used for some non-loadbearing structures on the Lockheed Martin F-35, Kemp says promising aerospace applications include improved sensors - possibly built into structures to detect stress.

Also, humble paint could be a near-term application. EasyJet is running trials on a nano coating that, applied on top of normal paint, fills microscopic holes to create a smoother surface to which less dirt adheres. The result? Less drag and less fuel consumption.

Another area where nanotechnology might help is in the quest for chromate-free paints to meet European chemical safety regulations, says Kemp.

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