Drones vs insects in environmental battle

Drones vs insects in environmental battle

August 24, 2018
Head of Communication

Insects sticking to aircraft cause friction and lead to increased fuel consumption. Drones will now be used to test surface coatings designed to limit the insect pests.

Humans are not the only ones being bothered by close-up encounters with insects this summer. Aircraft are also battling with swarming insects that stick to the smooth aerodynamic surfaces. Naturally, insect repellent is of no use.

Researchers wish to reduce this problem. Fuel consumption is an economic consideration for the airline industry, but reduced fuel consumption will benefit the environment too.

Testing different surface coatings

A new project under the auspices of the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme will focus on different surface coating to be applied to aircraft. The project will test various water repellent (hydrophobic) and water and oil repellent surface coatings. This is where Norut’s drones come into play.

“The first phase of the project focuses on choosing the best hydrophobic surface coatings,” says Norut Senior Research Scientist Stian Solbø.

Thorough laboratory tests will be performed to study robustness against erosion caused by water, ice, dust and sand. Solbø notes that, to be used in the aircraft industry, the chosen surface coating must have a durability of several thousand hours of flight time.

The next phase will involve the best surface coatings being chosen during a series of tests in a wind tunnel during which live insects are injected into the airstream.

“Norut is responsible for the final phase of the project, which involves testing the surface coatings on drones under realistic conditions. We will fly through an area infested with mosquitoes to ‘harvest’ the insects. The aim will be to compare how many fewer insects are attached to surfaces treated with the hydrophobic coatings than untreated surfaces,” explains Solbø.

Insects also a problem for wind turbines

Insects sticking to the surface is a major problem for wind turbines too. Insects stuck to the surface of the turbine blades reduce the output and, as such, the amount of power generated. Norut Research Director Rune Storvold refers to measurements showing a reduction of up to 20-25 per cent.

If the research scientists get closer to a solution for reducing insect sticking on aircraft, this would also be of significance for the wind power industry. However, this is not part of the current EU project.

The Chopin Project, which is an abbreviation for “Coatings with hydrophobic and/or omniphobic properties against insect contamination”, will run until 2021. The project is headed by the Belgian company Materia Nova. The other partners are research and industrial environments in Spain, France and Belgium in addition to Norut based in Tromsø.

Test flights

Where will the test flights involving the drones take place?

“We at Norut are currently working on possible test sites, relevant permits and planning of the operations in parallel with the development of the surface coatings. Those of us with local knowledge of Northern Norway should have no problem finding places with an insect guarantee in midsummer,” says Senior Research Scientist Stian Solbø.