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Embraer and Collins Testing Carbon Nanotube Anti/Deicing Technology

Autumn of the Piccolo Tube

Embraer, the Brazilian multinational aerospace manufacturer and world’s third-largest producer of civil aircraft, has partnered with Collins Aerospace, the Raytheon subsidiary and global supplier of avionics and aeronautical systems, to develop, test, and implement a carbon nanotube electro-thermal heating technology. If successful—and initial indications are promising—the emergent wizardry may well revolutionize the means by which airframes, rotors, and aircraft components are kept free of ice.

In December 2021, the CNT ice protection concept was installed on the vertical stabilizer of Embraer’s Phenom 300E prototype. The aircraft subsequently underwent over ten-hours of ground and dry-air flight-testing, during which the validity of the CNT concept was convincingly substantiated.  

Embraer Senior Vice President Luís Carlos Affonso said of the evaluation: “We are very encouraged by the recent test results, and we are convinced that this innovative technology will meet our ambitious technological and sustainability roadmap. We are glad to have Collins on this journey to explore further partnership opportunities that will help create a net zero carbon aviation industry.”

Collins Aerospace senior vice president Dr. Mauro Atalla added: “This electrothermal CNT technology is more energy efficient, lighter and uses greener manufacturing processes than current systems, and we believe it will become the future standard for ice protection – including those in more electric aircraft designs. Collaborations such as the one between Collins and Embraer are helping innovations like this come to market more quickly.”

The carbon nanotube heating system derives of myriad studies, computer models, and over five-hundred-hours of icing tunnel testing. Future assessments of the inchoate technology will include additional ground tests and flight in natural icing-conditions. The research is part of the More Electric Aircraft (MEA) initiative, an aviation industry-wide enterprise that posits significant ecological benefits stand to be realized if extant pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric airframe power systems were to be replaced with predominantly electrically powered equivalents. How replacing electrical systems with electrical system benefits the environment has yet to be revealed, but such are the vagaries of conservation.

Heaters based on CNT technology present significant advantages over existing metallic heaters. Benefits include the elimination of hazardous, chemical etching processes, a 25% reduction in system energy requirements, and the minimizing of the adverse aerodynamic effects of ice on airfoils and aircraft control surfaces. Furthermore, CNT heating-elements are considerably lighter, stronger, and longer-lasting than conventional metal heaters.

Embraer is the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial jets with cabin configurations of 150 or fewer seats. To date, the company has delivered more than 8,000 aircraft. In the time it’s taken to read this article, 24 Embraer aircraft have departed.

FMI: www.embraer.com



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