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German boffins develop sharkskin paint for ships, planes

Vorsprung durch fertigungstechnik

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Remorseless German boffins have developed a new type of paint which effectively coats ships, planes and wind turbines in sharkskin, reducing drag and saving energy.

According to the scientists and engineers of the Fraunhofer-Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Angewandte Materialforschung (Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research, aka IFAM):

To lower the fuel consumption of airplanes and ships, it is necessary to reduce their flow resistance, or drag. An innovative paint system makes this possible. This not only lowers costs, it also reduces CO2 emissions.

The scales of fast-swimming sharks have evolved in a manner that significantly diminishes drag, or their resistance to the flow of currents. The challenge was to apply this knowledge to a paint ...

Yvonne Wilke, Dr Volkmar Stenzel and Manfred Peschka, top fertigungstechnologists at the IFAM, handled this in part by using crafty nanoparticulate paint: but the really clever bit is that the nanopaint is applied via a stencil rather than uniformly, so as to give it the necessary sharkskin structure.

"It is applied as the outermost coating on the plane, so that no other layer of material is required," explains Stenzel. "Even when the airplane is stripped – about every five years, the paint has to be completely removed and reapplied – no additional costs are incurred. In addition, it can be applied to complex three-dimensional surfaces without a problem."

The shark paint is also fine for use on ships, and would by the inventors' calculations save no less than 2,000 tons of fuel annually if applied to a large container vessel. Likewise, if used on wind turbine blades, they think it would improve efficiency markedly.

The tech has so impressed their fellow boffins that Wilke, Stenzel and Peschka have been awarded the 2010 Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize.

Further details are available here courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institutes. ®

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