Air Cargo Management

Green sky: How sharks have inspired Lufthansa to reduce its carbon footprint

Sharks are majestic creatures of the Earth’s waters – and their skin holds the key to a new technology that will help Lufthansa Cargo fly more efficiently and reduce its carbon footprint.

This piece first appeared in the Summer issue of Airline Cargo Management, you can read the full magazine  

Shark skin is one of nature’s most ingenious designs. That’s because it is made up of small ridges and grooves resembling teeth that align in the direction of fluid flow when the shark is swimming, reducing friction drag significantly. An already fast-moving shark therefore receives a major boost in both speed and efficiency while going about its business.

The effective design has inspired a new technology that will be rolled out on Lufthansa Cargo’s entire freighter fleet from the beginning of 2022, reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Lufthansa Technik and BASF have partnered to create the technology, a surface film called ‘AeroSHARK’ that mimics the fine structure of a shark’s skin, reducing aerodynamic drag to achieve the savings. 

The surface structure consists of riblets measuring around 50 micrometers which imitate the properties of sharkskin, optimising the aerodynamics on flow-related parts of the aircraft. 

For Lufthansa Cargo’s 777F freighters, Lufthansa Technik estimates a drag reduction of more than one per cent. For the entire fleet of ten aircraft, this translates to annual savings of around 3,700 tons of kerosene and just under 11,700 tons of CO² emissions. This is equivalent to 48 individual freight flights from Frankfurt to Shanghai.

“We are proud that we will now be able to operate our entire freighter fleet even more efficiently in the future thanks to sharkskin technology and reduce the carbon footprint of our modern fleet further,” says Lufthansa Cargo’s chief executive officer Dorothea von Boxberg. “The investments we have made in rolling out AeroSHARK at Lufthansa Cargo consciously reaffirm our commitment to the United Nation’s sustainable development goal on climate action.”

BASF’s Coatings division is known for developing innovative, functional films in its Beyond Paint Solutions unit. The riblet surfaces represent the latest advancement, and the custom concept takes in the “key criteria for use in aviation operation”, which include simple application and handling as well as ease-of-repair.

“The aviation industry is facing similar challenges to the chemical industry: ongoing progress must be made with climate protection despite high energy requirements,” says BASF’s Dr Markus Kamieth, a member of the board of executive directors. 

“By collaborating closely and successfully combining our know-how in surface design and aerodynamics, we have now succeeded in taking a major step forward. This is an excellent example of sustainability in practice, achieved through partnership-based collaboration and innovative technologies.”

Lufthansa Technik and BASF said they would continue developing the new technology to encompass additional aircraft types and even larger surfaces so that they can offer the technology to airlines around the world. 

Initial model calculations show that use of sharkskin technology at its highest expansion level could reduce CO² emissions by as much as three per cent, the partners said. 

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