Expanded Graphite and the Future of Aircraft Anti-Icing Heaters

At an altitude between 30,000 and 40,000 feet where most aircraft will operate, temperatures will often fall below -40 degrees Fahrenheit. At such cold temperatures, any exposed fluids will quickly freeze and components can be affected as well. To ensure that ice does not form across aircraft surfaces and disrupt airflow, aircraft anti-icing heaters are used. While conventional devices have proven useful for many aircraft, such equipment is often too heavy for implementation on smaller aircraft and helicopters. Nevertheless, developing anti-icing heaters that can be manufactured from expanded-graphite foil may prove to be a lightweight and efficient solution for such aircraft.

With their low weight and fairly inexpensive cost when mass-produced, such expanded-graphite anti-icing heaters may greatly benefit smaller aircraft with their implementation. As electrical resistance heaters, such devices may draw on electrical power provided by a high-output alternator. In more conventional designs that serve large aircraft, electrical anti-icing heaters are most often produced with metallic heating elements. Additionally, multiple timers, elements, and electrical terminators are used to manage hot and cold spots. Rather than use metallic elements for heating, however, the developing system would utilize expanded-graphite foil which provides flexibility, a thermal conductivity similar to brass, decent electrical resistivity.

For the heating element of the developing system, the foil can be laminated with an insulating rubber of plastic sheet to place it against the aircraft surface or it may be laminated within a terminally conductive layer of polyurethane or polyamide for protection. Between the graphite and the aircraft surface, a heater laminate/tape is used for bonding. The heater laminate/tape will never have more than two electrical contacts, and spatial variations of sheet electrical resistance can be achieved through different densities of expanded-graphite foil in order to result in the optimal shedding of ice.

In one proposed design, the efficient shedding of ice may be achieved by having the heater spread out along the leading-edge of a wing. The heater would also be designed with a single foil heating element. With a central parting strip that is thicker along the stagnation line, the power density would be high enough to prevent freezing temperatures. Additionally, shedding zones on both sides of the parting strip would have a thickness low enough to achieve a much smaller power density as compared to the parting strip. With the parting strip and shedding zone design, such aircraft anti-icing heaters would be capable of reaching high efficiency for preventing the formation of ice.

As such expanded-graphite foil anti-icing heaters continue to be developed, light aircraft may soon be able to increase their capabilities of mitigating ice formation. When you are in the market for top quality aircraft heating parts and other aerospace components that you can rely on, look no further than Aviation Orbit. Aviation Orbit is a premier supplier of aviation, NSN, and electronic parts, and we can provide you competitive pricing and rapid lead-times on a plethora of items that we carry. Explore our expansive part and manufacturer catalogs today, and our team of industry experts are readily on standby to provide you quotes for your comparison, 24/7x365. Get started today and see why customers choose to rely on Aviation Orbit for their needs.


December 7, 2023
June 30, 2022

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