Fraunhofer researchers have been researching the low drag properties of fast swimming sharks, and have come up with a paint that reduces aerodynamic drag by mimicking shark skin. One of the reasons shark can move through water so fast is because their skin is made in a very structured way that includes tiny ridges called denticles. The denticles reduce drag and as an added benefit prevent stuff from sticking to the shark’s skin.
The new paint from Yvonne Wilke, Dr. Volkmar Stenzel, and Manfred Peschka of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research in Bremen includes nanoparticles so that the paint can withstand UV radiation, extreme temperature changes, and mechanical stresses from high speeds, all of which is required for airplanes. While the paint needs to be applied using a stencil rather than an airbrush in order to maintain the required structure, it adds no extra weight to the plane. In testing, the Fraunhofer researchers found that using this paint would save a significant amount of fuel – they estimate that if this paint were applied to all airplanes, it would save about 4.5 million tons of jet fuel, which works out to about 1.2 billion gallons.
This paint can also be used on ships – they found that the new paint reduced ship hull drag by 5% – that translates into a yearly savings of about 2,000 tons of fuel for a large container ship. Other potential uses for this sharkskin paint include wind turbine blades, since air resistance and drag lowers the efficiency of wind turbines.