Many of today’s airplanes are made of carbon-fibre composite, but putting graphene in the carbon-fibre coating made the plane’s wings stronger.
It has better impact resistance and is lighter and more drag resistant than a comparable with conventional carbon-fibre wings. The material’s strength means the wings of the plane would need to be coated with only one layer of graphene-infused carbon fibre rather than four or five layers of the conventional composite. If you can build a stronger aircraft with less material, it’s lighter, and you’ll fly farther. In tests, a graphene-enhanced skin on the wings improved impact damage, a standard measurement of potential in-flight damage, by at least 60 percent.
Further advantages of graphene’s relatively high electrical conductivity remain to be tested. Conductivity protects a plane from lightning strikes, and because carbon fibre has low conductivity, current airplane wings usually include a copper mesh that provides this protection. In theory, this copper mesh could be eliminated if graphene is used in the wing, making the plane even lighter and more fuel efficient. Graphene’s conductivity also could be used to electrically de-ice a plane, according to a study released in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, thus eliminating the equipment costs associated with today’s chemical de-icing technology.
A thin coating of graphene nanoribbons in epoxy developed at Rice University has proven effective at melting ice on a helicopter blade. The coating by the Rice lab may be an effective real-time de-icer for aircraft, wind turbines, transmission lines and other surfaces exposed to winter weather, according to a new paper in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.