EasyJet, the UK's largest airline, is piloting a nano-technology aircraft coating aimed at reducing drag and increasing fuel efficiency.
The ultra-thin coating, used for years on U.S. military aircraft, is a polymer that cross-links and bonds to the paint surface, while adding only about four ounces to the weight of the aircraft. The manufacturer makes a similar nanocoating for marine, truck and wind applications.
The budget airline, which launched in 1995, began flying eight nanocoated aircraft on Monday (Feb. 14).
EasyJet is the first commercial airline to test the coatings.
The airline will fly the new coatings for 12 months, then compare their fuel consumption with the rest of the fleet.
The coating reduces the build-up of ice and debris on the aircraft's structure, leading edge and other surfaces, thus reducing drag on the aircraft’s surface by up to 39%, the manufacturer says. EasyJet expects to reduce its fuel consumption by 1-2%.
The coating is less than a micron thick when applied. (A micron, short for micrometer, is equal to one millionth of a meter.)
The coating is applied and distributed in the UK by a company called TripleO (www.tripleOps.com), which also makes nano-based marine coatings and protective coatings for trucks and wind farms. The coatings clean and protect surfaces while inhibiting ingress by corrosion, dirt, sea water and other contaminants, the company says.
"EasyJet is really pleased about the trial with the special coating on our aircraft,” said CEO Carolyn McCall. “Efficiency is in easyJet's DNA. If we can find new ways of reducing the amount of fuel used by our aircraft, we can pass the benefits onto our passengers by offering them low fares and a lower carbon footprint.”
Features and Application
The nano-technology is a polymer that enables the high-performance solution to cross link and bond with the surface materials to which it is being applied, the manufacturer says. It contains hard, durable acrylic elements and creates a perfectly smooth finish, filling the “pores” of a surface with a proprietary resin. This forms a barrier to prevent penetration by contaminants of the “hills and valleys” of a surface invisible to the eye.
Applying the coating: In the preparation solution, a dicarboxylic acid, a "cationic" (positive) polarizing wash is used to purge the pores of the surfaces to be treated and electrically charge the surface with a positive polarity. The pores are cleansed and charged and are ready to receive the unique "anionic" or negatively charged molecules of the emulsion.
These molecules are pulled into the pores magnetically and held there, while all of the protective chemicals have cross-linked, bonded and cured, locking the coating into the paint and preventing drifting, fading or degradation of the paint until renewal.
EasyJet and TripleOps have also released a video demonstrating the trial.