New Coating Controls Drone De-Icing


Scientists have developed a powered nano-coating that prevents ice build-up on in-flight aircraft and could be especially useful for drone applications.

The carbon nanotube coating, called HeatCoat, is a new technology from Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit research and development organization headquarterd in Columbus, OH.

When applied to an aircraft surface, the coating creates a heated area and is said to be lighter than traditional ice protection systems, can operate on less power, has no moving parts, and can be retrofitted to existing assets.

The organization says it recently tested the technology's capabilities in simulated conditions and is now ready for a flight demonstration phase.

How it Works

The high-conductivity, carbon nanotube heating coating conforms to the existing skin of the aircraft and uses "intelligent sensors and controls" to reduce ice accumulation by monitoring the heater performance and applying only the power levels required for the flight conditions.

The system starts with a primer coating, followed by the heater coating embedded with carbon nanotubes, and topped off with a barrier coating and top coating.

Scientists applied the coating to representative wing and engine test parts and placed them in an aircraft manufacturer's research aero-icing tunnel, which is designed to mimic the same icing conditions that would be encountered during flight.

The coating was tested in the chamber for four days, with temperatures getting as low as -22°F and air speeds reaching up to 182 knots. According to the company, the technology successfully performed anti-icing and de-icing functions.

Scientists started the program in January 2010 after completing an internally funded research and development project to conduct feasibility tests of the coating in an icing tunnel at FAA regulated conditions. Based on the tests, the team concluded that a carbon nanotube-based coating was a "potentially transformative technology." In other words, it could provide an affordable, durable and lightweight ice protection solution for numerous aerial platforms.

'Radically Different'

"Battelle has made a long term investment in this technology because we think it is so promising," says Ron Gorenflo, HeatCoat Systems Product Manager.

This video demonstrates how the active, in-flight ice-protection system works.

"Our recent tests validated improvements we've made and prove that we are ready to go from a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 on to a TRL 7 once we identify a key partner to help complete the next step of this process."

The company calls this product "radically different" from traditional ice protection systems, which either use hot engine air to heat the surface, inflate rubber boots to break ice from the surface, or release antifreeze fluid from the wing.

These methods, Battelle says, can be too complex, too heavy, or draw too much power to be effective, especially in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have limited payload and power capacities.

Applied by direct spray or laminate films, Battelle says the coating's key advantage is its unlimited operating time.


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Asia Pacific; Coating chemistry; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Research

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