Researchers Testing Non-Chemical Method for DeIcing Planes

When it comes to developing new ways to combat icing on airplanes, there are many existing methods. But, as Thomas Jefferson once famously said, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." Battelle experts have been hard at work on an innovative future for reducing or preventing icing on airplanes using carbon nanotubes.

The anti-icing technology deploys carbon nanotubes into the plane's coating, which means it is lighter than traditional ice protection systems and can use much less power. Plus, it's applied using simple painting methods, so it can be sprayed on a variety of curved surfaces. The key innovation is how the carbon nanotubes are dispersed into a coating that goes on with the plane's standard paint, which then can be heated using available on-board power.

The product is radically different from other ice prevention systems, such as bleed air (heating the surface with hot engine air), mechanical boot (physically breaking the bond between surface and ice) or weeping wing (releasing toxic antifreeze fluid from the wing). These more traditional solutions can be too complex, too heavy or draw too much power to be effective, especially on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have both limited payload capacities and power supplies.

Recent icing tunnel testing to validate its compatibility with existing coating systems was promising. 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 in the next two to three years.

The program started in January 2010, when Battelle scientists completed an internally funded research and development project in which they conducted initial functional feasibility tests of the coating in an icing tunnel at conditions found in FAA Regulation 25 Appendix C, "Flight Into Known Icing Conditions." Success there led to the conclusion that a carbon nanotube-based coating was a potential game changing technology-one that could provide an affordable, durable, lightweight anti-icing solution for any aerial platform that needs it. By March of that year, Battelle presented the results to government officials, which ultimately led to a contract to advance the development of the technology by identifying and addressing potential high-risk issues.

Airplanes (manned and unmanned) have unique performance criteria and system level integration needs that must be met before the technology can be integrated and deployed.

"In the past two to three years, Battelle scientists have conducted many experiments to advance this technology," said John Ontiveros, operations manager for the Battelle program. "It's maturing quite nicely, as has been evidenced in recent testing. I'm excited about the future-I think we've got a real winner."


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