If ice accumulates on the wings, propellers or other surfaces of an aircraft, control can be dangerously inhibited. Thermoelectric ice protection systems prevent this from happening, using an ultra-thin conductive coating layer to generate heat when current is applied. Could existing technology for this application be improved? The graphene-based thermoelectric ice protection system (GICE) Spearhead Project, announced by the Graphene Flagship, is set to advance the technology readiness of graphene in thermoelectric ice protection systems.
Graphene is an ideal material to keep aircraft parts ice free, without affecting aerodynamic properties. Based on the work performed by various partners of the Graphene Flagship during earlier research phases, graphene-based ice protection systems are already in development, albeit at a low technology readiness level.
The goal of the newly launched GICE project is to advance these technologies to higher maturity by developing three technology demonstrators for specific use cases needed by key industrial partners, including Airbus and Sonaca.
Airbus is the largest European aerospace OEM and Sonaca is a strategic tier-1 supplier of components for Airbus, providing the ideal launch pad for the commercialisation of graphene-based ice protection systems.
"Thermoelectric ice protection technologies currently under investigation are based on carbon black, carbon rovings, carbon nanotubes, or metallic heating wires," explained Fabien Dezitter, Icing expert at Airbus and GICE leader. "They all have advantages and disadvantages with respect to each other, but we expect that the graphene-based solution proposed by GICE could bundle most advantages of all thermoelectric solutions.
"Advantages of graphene include flexibility of integration into complex 3D structures, low weight, reduced thermo-mechanical stress during heating cycles, higher efficiency with lower power consumption, no oxidation and chemical inertness and facile integrability into carbon fibre reinforced polymers, thermoplastics, or glass fibre reinforced polymers."
Graphene in these systems also enables precise control of heat generation to ensure the ice protection system is always at its optimum performance. These beneficial properties will help the GICE project improve the technology readiness of graphene in ice protection systems, with the final product based on the knowledge generated in the manufacturing of three demonstrators for real use cases, moving toward safer and environmentally friendlier flights.
Qualification and certification processes for new technologies in the aerospace sector are slow, which is why the GICE project endeavours to bring graphene ice protection systems up to technology readiness level six — with a system prototype demonstration tested in an icing wind tunnel by the end of the Spearhead Project in 2023.