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For a long time, graphene was unstable, but back in 2010, two Russian scientists won the Nobel award for their discovery of graphene in its stable state. The scientists managed to isolate graphene from graphite, discovering an element that can be put to practical purposes.
Stable graphene’s properties of being incredibly strong while also being lightweight and flexible have suggested that it has a huge potential in the aerospace sector. It is also a cheap material, with extraordinary mechanical, thermal and electrical properties.
Since its discovery in 2010, graphene has already begun to make waves in the aerospace sector. In 2016, the Farnborough International Air Show in the UK saw the maiden flight of the world’s first model aircraft with graphene incorporated into its structure. The flights of the aircraft were tested and benefits of adding graphene were observed. Researchers found that it reduced drag, increased impact resistance and it showed promising thermal management. Researchers believe that the material could be developed to protect aircraft from lightning strikes.
Last year saw the first successful flight of a graphene-skinned drone. The success of the flight of ‘Juno’ was considered significant as the first step in what is expected to be the development of the next generation of aircraft technologies.
These technological advancements will specifically benefit the drone segment in several ways:
Resistance to lightening
To make them resistant to lightning strikes, aircraft are built with metal meshes intertwined into the carbon fiber. Graphene can replace these meshes to give the same effect. In the example of the ‘Juno’ drone, graphene was built into the carbon fiber, creating a skin. The high conductivity of the skin works as a Faraday cage does, allowing the electricity to move safely around the drone without damaging it. In this way, drones can benefit from being resistant to lightning, reducing damage, repairs, and delays to missions.
Lightweight but strong
Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel but is six times less dense. Incorporating graphene into drones, therefore, makes them lightweight but incredibly strong. This results in them being more fuel-efficient, as they need less energy to travel the same distance because they weigh less. It also makes them more durable and more resistant to damage from being incredibly strong.
Resistant to ice build-up
The aerospace sector is always looking for ways to combat ice build-up as it threatens the safety of flight. Ice build-up can cause cracks to the surface of the aircraft, and also increases weight and drag. Current methods to prevent ice build-up include redirecting engine air over the wings and spraying the aircraft with chemicals. However, the graphene skin that was used on Juno distributes heat across the entire aircraft due to its superconductive nature, prevention ice build-up in a safer way that is more suited to the structure of drones. The conductivity of graphene is higher than copper, which is highly conductive as it is used in almost all electrical circuits, so this is an impressive quality of graphene which allows it to conduct heat to prevent ice build-up.
Fast charging batteries
Graphene’s potential to boost battery power is one of the most intensely studied areas of graphene research. Its properties of being very conductive and having a high surface area lend it to improving battery functions. The battery used in Juno incorporated graphene, and it showed incredibly fast recharge times. This would benefit drones by keeping them in the air for longer periods.
Further testing is needed before we can see this kind of technology enter the commercial marketplace, but it is expected to be a game-changer in the drone sector.
References and Further Reading