Nanotechnology aims to put a drag on easyJet’s escalating fuel bill and reduce emissions by up to two per cent
Applying the revolutionary coating to an easyJet aircraft (photo: Digital News Agency)
Mon 14 Feb 2011 – Low-cost carrier easyJet is trialling a revolutionary nanotechnology coating that lessens the build up of debris on an aircraft’s structure, leading edge and other surfaces, thus reducing drag and increasing fuel efficiency. The ultra-thin coating – less than a micron thick when applied – is already used on US military aircraft but this is the first time it has been tested on commercial airliners. The UK suppliers of the coating, tripleO, estimate that it could reduce easyJet’s fuel burn and carbon emissions by between one and two per cent. The airline has coated eight aircraft and will compare their fuel consumption with the rest of the 194-strong fleet during a 12-month trial period.
The nanotechnology itself is a polymer that enables a high performance solution to cross link and bond with the surface materials to which it is being applied. Aircraft paint surfaces have microscopic ‘hills and valleys’ that fill up with dirt and debris. The polymer contains hard, durable acrylic elements and creates a perfectly smooth finish, filling the pores of a surface with a unique resin and forming a barrier to prevent penetration by contaminants.
The procedure involves first cleansing the pores of the aircraft surfaces to be treated with a ‘cationic’, or positive, polarising wash that electrically charges the surface with a positive polarity. The pores are then ready to receive the unique ‘anionic’ or negatively charged molecules of the emulsion. These molecules are pulled into the pores magnetically and held there, while all of the protective chemicals have cross-linked, bonded and cured, locking the coating into the paint and preventing drifting, fading or degradation of the paint until renewal.
The coating adds just four ounces (113 grams) to the weight of the aircraft and reduces drag by up to 39%, claims tripleO.
The company’s Managing Director, Paul Booker, said: “The tripleO solution is proven in some of the most challenging applications, for some of the world’s most demanding military organisations over three decades. Where better to have tested a product such as this for commercial use? For a relatively small investment per aircraft, the financial, marketing and environmental benefits of applying tripleO are many-fold.”
EasyJet’s CEO, Carolyn McCall, said: “We are really pleased about the trial with the special coating on our aircraft. Efficiency is in easyJet’s DNA. If we can find new ways of reducing the amount of fuel used by our aircraft we can pass the benefits on to our passengers by offering them low fares and a lower carbon footprint.
“All airlines should be incentivised to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, which is why we welcome the UK government’s commitment to move from Air Passenger Duty (APD) to a fairer, greener per plane tax. We look forward to seeing the details of their proposal.”
Through a combination of a young fleet averaging less than four years old, high load factors and operational measures such as single engine taxiing, easyJet claims its passengers are responsible for 22% fewer emissions than those on a traditional airline. The airline has installed lighter-weight carpets and is currently looking at fitting lighter passenger seats.