A special surface film optimizes aerodynamics at the flow-related parts of the aircraft. (Photo: Sonja Brüggemann, Lufthansa Technik AG)

The lower the frictional resistance of an aircraft in the air, the lower the fuel consumption. Using nature as a role model, the aviation industry has been intensively researching ways to reduce aerodynamic drag for many years.

Lufthansa Technik and BASF say they have succeeded in making the breakthrough as part of a joint project. AeroSHARK, a surface film that mimics the fine structure of a shark’s skin, is to be rolled out on Lufthansa Cargo’s entire freighter fleet from the beginning of 2022, making the aircraft more economical and reducing emissions.

The surface structure consisting of riblets measuring around 50 micrometers, imitates the properties of sharkskin and therefore optimizes the aerodynamics on flow-related parts of the aircraft. This means that less fuel is needed overall. For Lufthansa Cargo’s Boeing 777F freighters, Lufthansa Technik estimates a drag reduction of more than one percent. For the entire fleet of 10 aircraft, this translates to 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.

“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.”  

“The aviation industry is facing similar challenges to the chemical industry: ongoing progress must be made with climate protection despite high energy requirements. By collaborating closely and successfully combining our know-how in surface design and aerodynamics, we have now succeeded in taking a major step forward. This is an excellent example of sustainability in practice, achieved through partnership-based collaboration and innovative technologies,” says Dr. Markus Kamieth, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF.

The Coatings division of BASF is developing innovative, functional films in its Beyond Paint Solutions unit – such as the riblet surfaces. A solution was implemented together with Lufthansa Technik which fulfills the strict requirements of the aviation industry. Exterior surfaces used in aviation are exposed to factors such as strong UV radiation as well as temperature and pressure fluctuations at high altitudes, among others. BASF says it therefore focused its development on achieving extreme durability and weather resistance. The key criteria for use in aviation operation include simple application and handling as well as ease-of-repair, for which a custom concept was developed.

“As an expert in surfaces, we implement bespoke solutions for our customers. 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,” says Dirk Bremm, head of BASF’s Coatings division.

Lufthansa Technik and BASF say they intend to continue developing the new technology to include additional aircraft types and larger surfaces so that they can support airlines 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 three percent.

www.basf.com