Aviation manufacturers have made superlative progress in efforts to upgrade the environmental profile of aeroplanes. One of the areas in which this can be achieved is by combating ice formation on aircraft wings, which contributes to increased emissions and noise pollution. Current methods to de-ice wings involves heating the wing edges on which the ice forms, which can backfire as the ice melts and runs back over the wings and refreezes. Aiming to overcome this challenge, the EU-funded ICECOAT (Novel aircraft de-icing concept based on smart coatings with electro-thermal system) project conceived new icephobic surface treatments that prevent runback ice accumulation. It worked on testing the hydrophobicity, icephobicity and anti-icing capability of different nanocomposite coatings that could minimise the problem. To achieve its aims, partners tested wettability of surfaces in a wind tunnel under subzero temperatures. They conducted experiments including centrifuge tests and runback icing tests using different coatings to see how freezing can be delayed or avoided. Overall, ICECOAT developed 10 coatings with potential anti-icing capability and conducted intensive testing on each. It applied the coatings onto aluminium alloy surfaces, combining increased surface roughness with chemical modification of the surfaces to lower the surface energy further. The tests confirmed the development of nanostructured surface treatments that can offer ice formation-retarding contact with runback ice. They achieved success in isolating icing to areas that are far away from the leading edge of the wing, which can actually be delayed enough until the water disappears. ICECOAT research supports competitiveness and European primacy in the aviation sector, boosting employment, education and training in this new field. Most importantly, once applied, the project’s technology will help reduce CO2, Nox and aircraft noise by minimising skin-friction drag, thanks to the new nanocomposites. More efficient aircraft and cleaner skies are set to emerge from this cutting-edge research.
De-icing, aircraft, nanocomposites, ICECOAT, coatings, icephobicity