How nanotechnology might be the future of the aerospace industry

Air travel and tourism are key drivers and an important link in world economics. That said, aviation and aerospace are significantly one of the heaviest industries worldwide. Technological advancements are key to remaining competitive in this industry where cut-throat competition is the norm. And this couldn’t be further from the truth, especially at a time when the whole world is ravaged by the viral pandemic and its consequences. Nevertheless, aviation will always make a comeback, and this time, much stronger-we have a knack for that.

Aviation has had its share of ups and downs throughout these times as we’ve seen the unfortunate disappearance of mighty jets like the Airbus A380 and Boeing B747. Operators now prefer to use the much smaller, more fuel-efficient narrow-bodies like the B737 and A320 family, which does make sense now. And it might be some time before the jumbos make a come-back.


To drive more profits, the focus has been on producing more economical engines and hence more research has been directed towards lighter structural materials, even more so than the ones in place currently. The goal now is to control fuel consumption and carbon emissions connected with air travel and transportation as awareness of climate change has advocated the need for higher fuel efficiency.

Representative | Open Access Government

Use(s) of nanotechnology

Nanotechnology, an ever-evolving discipline, finds several uses within the aerospace industry.

Now, nanotechnology, more precisely nanomaterials, allows creating almost perfect material. As an example, improvised steel enhances performance and passenger safety while saving notable money. These materials exhibit considerably enhanced properties matched to their counterparts with microscale or larger grain structures.

Nanomaterials are engineered particles made to have remarkably small dimensions to take advantage of unique physical and chemical properties that exist at the nanoscale.


With dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers – about the size of a virus -nanomaterials have unusual physical, chemical and biological properties that can differ significantly from the properties of bulk materials, including single atoms or molecules. These differences enable the aerospace industry to do several things including engineering aircraft structures that are flexible and adaptive, developing innovative energy generation and storage systems for air travel and manufacturing sensors that monitor virtually every element of air travel.

Developments so far

Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures (SARISTU)

 An EU-funded project is concerned with the challenges posed by the physical integration of smart intelligent structural concepts. Basically, It addresses aircraft weight and operational cost reductions as well as an improvement in the flight profile specific aerodynamic performance. It focuses on material concepts enabling a conformal, controlled distortion of aerodynamically important surfaces, material concepts enabling an active or passive status assessment of specific airframe areas for shape and potential damages and material concepts enabling further functionalities which to date have been unrealizable.

A “morphing wing” design which could revolutionize future air travel | Representative | Inhabitat

Reduction in drag, meaning that less fuel is needed to complete a flight. New aerodynamic designs are also lighter and generate less noise. This will help reduce the impact of overhead aircraft on neighbourhoods near airports.

Project ReSiSTant | Horizon 2020 EU NMBP-Pilot Project

ReSiSTant, an acronym for Large Riblet Surface with Super Hardness, Mechanical and Temperature Resistance by neofunctionalization, is focussed on developing new nanofunctionalized and optimised riblets’ surfaces to be applied in two real demonstrators related to aircraft turbofan engines and industrial compressors.

The four-year project ReSiSTant, launched in 2018, is optimising the performance of aircraft turbofan engines and industrial compressors while reducing environmental impact.

Representative | Live Science

ReSiSTant demonstrators are led by relevant industrial companies in aircraft and industrial compressors sectors, thus project improvements will notably impact Europe. It will be translated into environmental benefits thanks to the reduction in fuel consumption and carbon emissions as well as into economic growth.

Nanoparticles in aviation fuel

According to researchers in Canada, the simple addition of nanoparticles to a hydrocarbon fuel can drastically alter the characteristics of its combustion, into what is touted to boost aircraft efficiency.

Representative | NC State University

According to  Sepehr Mosadegh and colleagues at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus and Zentek in Thunder Bay Ontario, mixing liquid ethanol with tiny particles of graphene oxide under varying conditions could boost the breakdown of the fuel into tiny liquid droplets, which could one day, perhaps, lead to enhanced fuels for aircraft engines – making them both greener and more powerful.

If achieved on a commercial scale, this innovation could be a crucial step forward in urgently needed efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by the aviation industry.

The warming effect of aeroplane contrails on Earth’s climate could increase threefold by 2050

according to new research done by Lisa Bock and Ulrike Burkhardt at the German Aerospace Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen
Physics World

Hence it becomes imperative that better, more efficient combinations of fuel are used to mitigate carbon emissions from aircraft.

To summarize, the benefits of adopting nanotechnology in aviation has immense benefits with much of its potential yet to be tapped into.  The reduction of the total weight of the aircraft translates to a significant reduction in fuel consumption, which in turn leads to a reduction in costs-Profits being a major factor driving this industry.


COVER: Air Liquide Advanced Technologies

Related Articles