‘Sharkskin’ solution makes planes faster, saves millions, cuts emissions

Karen Pham

Karen Pham


An Australian startup has developed technology based on sharkskin that it believes can cut airlines’ fuel bills and reduce carbon emissions. 

MicroTau has just secured a $5.6 million investment from The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

After winning a global competition organised by the US Air Force in 2015 for solutions to improve aircraft fuel efficiency, MicroTau was founded specialising in printing nature’s functional surfaces by bringing scalable microfabrication to industries including aerospace, shipping and health care.

The company’s purpose is to replicate the sharkskin structure on the exterior surface of aeroplanes. Using specialist laser manufacturing technology, it reproduces the sharkskin-style pattern in a light-curable material onto large, self-adhesive patches. The investment from CEFC will enable it to scale-up manufacturing and grow the company’s team.

“Were we to apply our film to an Airbus A380 today, a single flight from Sydney to LA would save $8554 in fuel and 18,018kg of CO2 emissions,” said Henry Bilinsky, MicroTau’s founder. “Thousands of dollars per flight adds up to millions over the life of the aircraft.

“That’s just using current technology to retrofit an existing plane. We could see efficiency improvements as high as 10 per cent as we refine the design.”

Bilinsky says converting his concept of direct contactless manufacturing into reality is a big challenge. Hundreds of square metres of microscopic ridges called ‘riblets’ will be required to cover a plane wing. Fortunately, he has received support from ANFF-NSW’s Research & Prototype Foundry based at the University of Sydney whose rapid turnarounds and local production allow testing and customisation of new optical components.

“In the foundry, you have people doing fundamental research, next to material scientists working for major companies, next to PhD students,” said Nadia Court, the technical director of the Research and Prototype Foundry. “All these different approaches collide and spark new ideas. MicroTau is a wonderful example of the creative, clever community we want to see in Australia.” 

Karen Pham

Karen Pham

Karen Pham is a marketing and branding enthusiast with a major in legal English. Based in Ho Chi Minh City, she is a contributor to Viable.Earth.