Lufthansa, BASF Announce New Surface Technology


In a joint news release, German airline company Lufthansa and global chemical company BASF announced the roll out of its latest surface coatings technology, inspired by sharks.

Created by Lufthansa Technik and BASF, the innovative solution is slated to be utilized on all Boeing 777 freighters starting in 2022.

Sharkskin Technology

Using nature as a role model, Lufthansa Technik and BASF have developed a surface film that mimics the fine structure of a shark’s skin. The aerospace coating, dubbed AeroSHARK, is reported to lower the frictional resistance of an aircraft in the air, ultimately lowering fuel consumption.

“Responsibility for the environment and society is a key strategic topic for us,” says Christina Foerster, Member of the Executive Board of Deutsche Lufthansa AG with responsibility for sustainability. “We have always played a leading role in introducing environmentally friendly technologies. The new sharkskin technology for aircraft shows what strong and highly innovative partners can achieve collectively for the environment. This will help us to achieve our goal of climate neutrality by 2050.”

Although on a much smaller scale than Boeing 777 freighters, the aviation industry has been reportedly researching the use of sharkskin for many years. In 2019, Lufthansa Technik and BASF fitted almost the entire lower half of a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400's fuselage with 500 square meters of such a jointly developed sharkskin surface and had this modification certified by EASA. As a result, the aircraft was noted to have savings potential on scheduled long-haul services during more than 1,500 flight hours.

The test thus proofed that emissions could be reduced by around 0.8% thanks to the sharkskin modification. The savings are validated using a software for fuel consumption analyses developed by Lufthansa Technik, which allows the effectiveness of a wide variety of different aircraft modifications to be demonstrated reliably based on comprehensive data.

Consisting of riblets measuring around 50 micrometers, the film optimizes the aerodynamics on flow-related parts of the aircraft through its imitation of sharkskin properties, making aircrafts more economical in addition to reducing emissions. For Lufthansa Cargo’s Boeing 777F freighters specifically, Lufthansa Technik estimates a drag reduction of more than 1%.

For the entire fleet of 10 aircrafts, Lufthansa Technik translates the percentage to an annual savings of around 3,700 tons of kerosene and just under 11,700 tons of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of 48 individual freight flights from Frankfurt to Shanghai.

“We are proud that we will now be able to operate our entire freighter fleet even more efficiently in the future thanks to sharkskin technology and reduce the carbon footprint of our modern fleet further. The investments we have made in rolling out AeroSHARK at Lufthansa Cargo consciously reaffirm our commitment to the United Nation’s sustainable development goal on climate action,” explained Dorothea von Boxberg, Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa Cargo AG.  

According to the release, Lufthansa Technik, in its cooperation with BASF, plans to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the 777F from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is required for operation. The company is noted to have already been backed by decades of experience as an approved aviation design organization. For AeroSHARK, Lufthansa Technik is responsible for the material specification, approval by the aviation authorities and performance of aircraft modifications carried out as part of regular maintenance layovers.

“We have always used our wealth of expertise as a global market leader in technical aircraft services to also contribute to reducing the ecological footprint of our industry. In doing so, we can leverage significant savings potential from all aircraft generations,” explained Johannes Bussmann, Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa Technik AG. “I am therefore very proud that we will soon be able to transfer the positive findings of the validation phase into the series application with Lufthansa Cargo. The extremely constructive collaboration with BASF is also the best example of cross-sector cooperation in the interest of the sustainability of the aviation industry.”

The Coatings division of BASF is currently developing functional films in its Beyond Paint Solutions unit—such as the riblet surfaces used for AeroSHARK. The company’s solution was implemented together with Lufthansa Technik and fulfills strict aviation requirements. Because exterior aviation surfaces are exposed to strong UV radiation, temperature and pressure fluctuations, among other elements, BASF has made it a point to focus its development on achieving extreme durability and weather resistance.

The key criteria for use in aviation operation includes simple application and handling as well as ease-of-repair, for which a custom concept has been developed.

“As an expert in surfaces, we implement bespoke solutions for our customers,” said Dirk Bremm, Head of BASF’s Coatings Division and also responsible for functional films in this role. “The innovative sharkskin technology allows us to support Lufthansa in achieving its sustainability goals and in making the aviation industry a little more environmentally friendly.”

Lufthansa Technik and BASF intend to continue developing the new technology consistently to include additional aircraft types and even larger surfaces so that they can support airlines around the globe even more comprehensively in the future in reaching their sustainability goals. Initial model calculations show that use of sharkskin technology at its highest expansion level could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 3%.

Other Recent BASF Announcements

Last month, BASF announced that it was breaking ground on the third phase of its Innovation Campus Shanghai and that the company would establish an “academic sounding board” as part of the Network for Asian Open Research.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2022 and would make the total investment of the Shanghai campus around 280 million euros.

The project was first announced in 2019 when BASF stated it would be expanding its scope in the Asia Pacific region with a 34 million-euro ($38.4 million) investment into a new 5,000-square-foot facility that would house a new automotive application center and a process catalysis research and development center.

The application center is reportedly equipped with a spray booth for electrostatic applications, a physical testing lab and a 3D robot.

In the research and development center, specialized testing units are equipped for evaluating solid catalyst performance, and state-of-the-art facilities for solids processing. Solid processes such as solid formation, separation, formulation, thin film coating, drying and solid handling will be designed and optimized at the facility, according to the company.

Also in April, BASF announced a slew of intended milestones for what it’s calling a “roadmap to climate neutrality.” The company targets a net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

In addition, based on the most recent progress in developing low-emission and CO2-free technologies, the company is also significantly raising its medium-term 2030 target for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and now wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 25% compared with 2018.

These goals mean cutting CO2 emissions in half in the current business by the end of this decade. Overall, BASF says it plans to invest up to 1 billion euros by 2025 to reach its new climate target and a further 2-3 billion euros by 2030.

To achieve these goals, BASF set out a plan, which includes:

  • the use of new technologies, which will replace fossil fuels such as natural gas with electricity from renewable sources;
  • planned investments in a number of specific flagship projects in renewable energies; and
  • trying to secure funding from European and national programs in order to remain competitive while replacing its already-efficient production processes.

Tagged categories: Aerospace; aircraft; Asia Pacific; Aviation; BASF; Coating / Film thickness; Coating Materials; Coating/Film Thickness; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Protective Coatings; Research and development; Z-Continents

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