Nikon has teamed up with All Nippon Airways (ANA) to produce a film coating that will increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions from aircraft. The riblet-processed film uses the concept of biomimetics, combining laser and microfabrication technology to form a shape that imitates sharkskin when it comes into contact with fluids.
It seems like a strange collaboration, but Nikon isn't just in the business of making the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) and DSLRs (opens in new tab); it has proprietary laser processing technology, which not only helps in riblet processing but could also help save the planet. And we have sharks to thank for it. Who’d have thought it?
Sharks are among the ocean’s apex predators, and one of the reasons for that is their skin. Rather than being smooth to the touch, as you might expect, sharkskin is actually quite rough, as it is covered in tiny V-shaped scales called denticles. For more than 40 years scientists have been using shark skin as a model for riblet surfaces, as it has drag reduction effects – which is why sharks can swim quickly but quietly. When science mimics nature it’s known as biomimetics, and it has been used to make swimsuits for Olympic gold medal winners.
This process has never been used on aircraft, but it is possible to reduce the frictional resistance caused by the irregular flow of liquids and gases and improve fuel efficiency by about 2% when this new riblet film is used. Initially, the riblet film will be fitted on the ANA Green Jet special paint machine for testing, at which stage Nikon and ANA will conduct a technical verification and assess its durability.
ANA first launched the ANA Future Promise in June 2021 – a green initiative that could help realize a more sustainable business model while also improving its corporate value. As we face a climate crisis, it’s never been more important for aviation companies to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint – and if this riblet film is a success, we could see it rolled out on other airlines.