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How Conductive Coatings Are Changing Aviation

Posted by Battelle Staff on May 8, 2015

When you’re up in the air, ice is the enemy. Even a small amount of ice on an aircraft’s wings can add weight and change the aerodynamics in dangerous ways.

Why is icing such a problem for aviation (including drones)?

Ice can build up on aircraft either through precipitation on the ground or by formation of ice on the wings, engine inlet and other surfaces during flight. This ice is dangerous for two reasons. First, it can add significant weight, requiring more fuel expenditure and potentially making the aircraft too heavy to fly. It also changes the aerodynamics of the aircraft’s surfaces, adding drag and reducing lift and eventually causing the aircraft to stall.

What kinds of aircraft deicing systems are available now?

Right now, the aviation industry has a few different ice protection system options. Some airplanes are fitted with pneumatic “boots” on the forward edges of the wings that can be inflated to crack off the ice when it starts to build up. Other systems use chemicals or forced hot air from the engines to prevent ice from forming during flight.

These types of ice protection systems require installation of special equipment that adds weight to the aircraft and requires careful consideration in the structural design of the wing. Applying these technologies to an existing aircraft may require major structural redesign. Costs to replenish deicing fluids in chemical systems can really add up, too.

How can conductive coatings prevent aircraft icing?

Conductive coatings are advanced materials that can conduct an electrical current and be applied as a paint, spray or laminate. They make it easy to retrofit onto existing aircraft without additional structural changes. It also is much lighter than chemical or mechanical systems and does not change the existing wing profile, so it does not significantly impact drag, lift or fuel requirements. And there are no moving parts to maintain or chemicals to replenish.

Battelle's HeatCoat™ is an example of these conductive coatings.