Inspired by lotus leaves, scientists develop dredging laser technology for aircraft

It is important to keep the wings ice-free, but the use of chemical deice de-icing agents before take-off may be problematic,media New Atlas reported. German scientists are working on something that could help, such as the treatment of aircraft surfaces based on ice-free laser technology. Waiting for a passenger plane to be filled with large amounts of de-icing agents can be a hassle and can cause take-off delays. Moreover, the chemicals used can be very expensive and often less environmentally friendly.

Inspired by lotus leaves, scientists develop dredging laser technology for aircraft

To enable smaller de-icing agents to do the same thing, some aircraft now add heating elements to key areas of the fuselage, or they use settings to transfer hot air from the engine to the same area. The new system is designed to further reduce the need for de-icing agents, which may not even be needed at all.

The technology, developed by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute of Materials and Beam Technology in Germany, Airbus and The Institute of Industrial Technology in Dresden, uses a variant of an existing technique called Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP). In short, DLIP involves dividing a single laser beam into two or more “subbeams”. When these beams are focused on the surface at the same time, their overlapping light waves produce interference patterns that are used in turn to etch three-dimensional nano-or micron-sized structures onto the surface. Up to one square meter of material can be processed per minute.

Inspired by lotus leaves, scientists develop dredging laser technology for aircraft

In laboratory tests, the improved DLIP process is used to apply 3D multi-layer microstructures to the aluminum surface of the NACA-type wing and to simulate the leading edge of the aircraft wing. Inspired by the lotus leaves, these structures present a fragmented surface and have limited ice adhesion points. The internally heated wing is then placed in a wind tunnel where the air temperature is below -10oC and contains various humidity levels with wind speeds ranging from 65 to 120 meters per second.

It was found that even if the model was not heated, the amount of ice that had accumulated on it would fall off on its own. And when the heating element of the wing is used to generate 60 watts of heat, the accumulated ice melts in only five seconds – on the contrary, when the same heat is prepared for non-DLIP-processed wing type, it takes 70 seconds to melt the ice.

Researchers now plan to test the technology under actual flight conditions on the Airbus A350.