GE Harnesses Nanotechnology, Nature to Help Save Airlines Cash

March 19, 2012
Lotus leaf-inspired nanotextured design leads to new anti-icing surfaces for aircraft wings and wind turbines.

GE (IW 4/500) Global Research has released a new research report showing promising results for its nanotextured anti-icing surface technology.

According to the report, the technology dramatically reduces ice adhesion and delays ice formation on flat surfaces, which could lead to some significant advantages for the airline industry.

Azar Alizadeh, a materials scientist at GE Global Research and project lead on the anti-icing surfaces program, explained that excess ice accretion on aircraft surfaces can cause lift off issues and negatively affect the aerodynamics of wings during flight. It can also reduce the efficiency of turbine blades.

Traditionally, airlines have used massive amounts of deicing agents and energy-intensive heating systems to combat and prevent ice formation on aircrafts. GE's nano-enabled anti-icing surfaces, however, could help create a passive, more efficient anti-icing system.

This could mean some big cost savings for the airline industry, said Alizadeh.

"Today, airlines and other industry sectors spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on deicing and other anti-icing measures," she said. "We have successfully engineered new nano-surfaces and coatings that readily shed ice and also significantly delay ice formation under extreme conditions. These technologies could one day reduce and possibly even eliminate the need for existing anti-icing measures, maintaining safety while also saving businesses and consumers time and money."

With this technology, ice will still adhere to surfaces in extreme cold, but a much smaller force will be required to remove it, she explained. In most cases, the weight of the ice or the wind's drag forces may be enough to remove the build-up.

While promising, these advances are still a few steps from commercial viability, GE warns. The nanotech surfaces and coatings require further development before they are durable enough and ready for commercial applications.

This development comes as part of GE's ongoing advanced nanotechnology research program at GE Global Research.

Work in this field was inspired by research into the Lotus plant leaf, said an announcement from GE. These leaves are covered with a nanotextured wax that repels water. This has helped GE scientists create super water-repellent coatings to improve moisture control in steam turbines and work toward reduced fouling and gas turbines, which would enable them to run more efficiently and reduce maintenance frequency.

About the Author

Travis M. Hessman | Editor-in-Chief

Travis Hessman is the editor-in-chief and senior content director for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He began his career as an intern at IndustryWeek in 2001 and later served as IW's technology and innovation editor. Today, he combines his experience as an educator, a writer, and a journalist to help address some of the most significant challenges in the manufacturing industry, with a particular focus on leadership, training, and the technologies of smart manufacturing.

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