Lufthansa jets don 'shark skin' to take bite out of emissions

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German airline group Lufthansa on Monday said it plans to coat its cargo planes with a film that mimics the properties of streamlined shark skin to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon emissions.

In a joint project with German chemical giant BASF, Lufthansa will from 2022 equip its 10 Boeing 777 freighters with a newly developed film known as AeroSHARK, estimating it will lead to a drag reduction of "more than one percent".

This would in turn save around 3,700 tonnes of jet fuel annually and slash the fleet's CO2 output by nearly 11,700 tonnes, the companies said in a statement, "the equivalent of 48 individual freight flights from Frankfurt to Shanghai."

The skin of sharks is covered in tiny riblets that reduce turbulent vortices and the drag they cause, thereby diminishing surface resistance when moving at speed.

The phenomenon has for decades fascinated research scientists in a wide range of fields, from military applications to aerospace and aeronautics to swim suit technology.

"The innovative shark skin technology allows us to support Lufthansa in achieving its sustainability goals and in making the aviation industry a little more environmentally friendly," said Dirk Bremm, head of BASF's coatings division.

The immediate impact on Lufthansa's carbon footprint will likely be just a drop in the ocean however given that Lufthansa Cargo emitted nearly four million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

The Lufthansa group as a whole aims to cut its carbon output in half by 2030 compared with 2019 levels.

The group emitted more than 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide overall in 2020, down from 33 million tonnes in 2019 before the pandemic upended the travel industry.