ATR: ColdSense recently won the EACP Innovation Forum Sustainable Innovation Award – congratulations! Why was it necessary to come up with a new way of de-icing aircraft?
Velandia: For a commercial aircraft to fly safely in inclement weather, dealing with icing is a crucial aspect of certification. It takes sophisticated technologies, which use a lot of energy, to detect, stop, and remove ice accretion. In order to operate this system for 45 minutes, an airplane must have a power source exceeding 300 kW overall (including losses).
Furthermore, there are systems that work on an intermittent basis, which makes it difficult to implement any kind of efficient energy management. The energy wasted is huge, therefore for a more sustainable aviation we need new ways to remove the ice accretion.
ATR: Please give our readers a brief introduction to the technology that won the award.
Velandia: Our Ice Protection System combines different subsystems into an energy efficient protection concept. The combination of these systems is done using Artificial Intelligence, which allows for a protection system on demand. The different components of the system are forecasting, real-time ice detection, ice phobic coatings, and electrothermal de-icing.
ATR: Did de-icing hybrid/electric aircraft present different challenges than typical aircraft? Why?
Velandia: Most current de-icing systems for commercial aircraft rely on hot bleed-air of the aircraft engine. It is distributed through piping systems and piccolo-tubes behind the engine inlet lip and the leading edge of the wings.
With temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius, bleed air is hotter than necessary, so it first passes through a pre-cooler.
These systems are very effective but have the disadvantage that they consume a lot of energy and reduce the performance of the engines.
In the future, hybrid/electric aircraft will be powered by other energy sources, which do not necessarily can provide hot air to be used for de-icing purposes. New energy sources also require significant improvements in efficient energy management.
ATR: How is your de-icing system solution different than those already in use in the field?
Velandia: Our de-icing system is AI driven and provides a more efficient energy allocation than current systems. Locating several sensors on the exposed surfaces enables an improved mapping of ice accretions risks.
This detailed mapping, combined with the forecasting, tackles ice formation in the very early stage and in an efficient way. Warming up only the necessary surface and using only the required amount of heat needed, depending on the type of ice on the surface, the overall consumption of the system can be reduced up to 80% compared with current systems.
ATR: Your solution uses low drag icephobic coatings. Please explain why this is unique.
Velandia: These unique coatings reduce both the energy consumption during the flight but also the adhesion capability of ice during an encounter. Reducing drag has been a desire of the aircraft industry for several decades. With these coatings, less energy is needed to power up the aircraft because less energy is needed to overcome the drag.
At the same time, the coating slows down the formation of ice. Should the aircraft be exposed to icing conditions, the water will not stick as easily to the surface as without the coating.
Furthermore, once the ice is formed, the adhesion of the ice layer is reduced by the coating, making it easier to remove the accretion, reducing the amount of energy needed to lose the bottom layer, and allowing the complete ice formation to fly away.
ATR: What is the low drag icephobic coating made from? How is it applied?
Velandia: The coating is still in development and we cannot comment on that point at the moment.
ATR: Your solution also uses efficient electothermal de-icing. Please explain how these two things work together to provide the best solution for hybrid/electric propulsion systems.
Velandia: One of the upsides of electrothermal de-icing is you can also control how much energy are you putting into the system. If there is a small amount of ice, you do not need to set your system up to 100% power to get rid of it.
This energy management feature is crucial for hybrid/electric aircraft in the future because you only need to use the exact amount of energy needed to remove your ice. Having icephobic coatings also reduce the minimum energy required to remove a certain amount of ice.
ATR: You say that Coldsense provides a “complete ice protection system” including forecasting, prevention, detection and de-icing. Please explain all the facets of the system and why each step is a key part of the process.
Velandia: Forecasting helps to prepare the IPS to respond to incoming icing conditions. Knowing what kind of icing might appear in a few minutes can help to prepare the whole aircraft and their energy fluxes to have energy ready to counteract during the icing encounter. The ice detection works as a warning system, providing real-time information on the state of the surfaces exposed to icing encounters. It tells the system when the forecasted situation is a current situation.
The coating slows down the accretion of ice and gives the system a little buffer of time to react, check where the ice forms first, and decide by means of AI how to address the current icing scenario. Electrothermal de-icing is the countermeasure to remove locally and on-demand, layers of ice that might be formed on the aircraft.
ATR: Talk about the green aspect of your system. Why is it better than what is currently available?
Velandia: Our system offers the same high level of security but consumes far less power— only 30kW. Applying our approach to all currently operating commercial aircraft would result in a 770 million liter reduction in yearly global kerosene consumption and a 2.04 million ton reduction in CO2 emissions.
Large improvements in energy consumption are one terrific application of artificial intelligence. A similar concept as the one developed for our IPS has been applied in a different segment: cold storage rooms. We currently improve defrosting cycles on heat exchangers and save up to 20% of the energy used for cooling in refrigerated rooms.
The environmental contribution of our technology is not limited to aircraft: refrigerated rooms in airports, for example, can also take advantage of our intelligent system. The road to a zero-emission aviation also includes associated infrastructure and an effort to improve their energy efficiency.
ATR: Are there any downsides to your system?
Velandia: At the moment, the system is only designed for new aircraft. However, we are already working into a system that can be retrofitted for existing and smaller aircraft….
ATR: When can we expect to see this system in use on aircraft?
Velandia: The subsystems of our ice protection system (ice detection, ice phobic coating, electrothermal deicing) have been successfully tested in the Braunschweig Icing Wind Tunnel, which guarantees aerospace quality standards SAE ARP 5905.
Our different subsystems have currently different technology readiness levels. Our ice detectors are already in service in the UAV segment and the coatings will have erosion tests in a wind turbine this winter. We estimate we will have a complete IPS in about three years.