Sydney-based MicroTau has secured $5.6 million in a bid to see its shark skin-inspired film used on commercial aircraft and help reduce emissions in the aviation industry.
The seed funding round received $2 million from Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), in addition to further backing from venture capitalists Bill Tai and Amanda Terry of ACTAI Ventures and Bandera Capital.
The microscopic film, which has been in development for six years, can be applied to the surface of aircraft and help reduce drag while improving fuel efficiency and cutting emissions.
MicroTau CEO and founder Henry Bilinsky said the aviation and shipping sectors have a burning fuel problem that’s only getting worse.
“Over millions of years nature has developed solutions to improve efficiency, and now – with the backing of the CEFC – MicroTau will put shark skin inspired film on planes to help fight climate change,” he added.
“With the International Air Transport Association (IATA) pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and record-high fuel prices, operators are searching for solutions to reduce fuel consumption.”
MicroTau’s tech uses patterned light to create microscopic structures known as “riblets”, which is the drag-reducing texture found on the skin of sharks.
The film can be applied during scheduled aircraft maintenance and has the potential to save the commercial aviation industry more than $48.9 billion (USD$34 billion) in fuel costs, abating up to 225 million tonnes in CO2 per annum.
While the funding will be used to qualify the shark skin film for use on large commercial aircraft, it will also be used to grow the company’s team of scientists, engineers and business development specialists.
The product has shown promise after delivering efficiency improvements for in-flight testing, prompting the MicroTau team to try to improve fuel efficiency by up to 10 per cent.
As a result, some of the world’s largest aviation manufacturers and operators have shown interest in the tech, including the United States Air Force.
Aviation fuel, which represents one of the largest cost components in airline operations, cost approximately $260 billion per annum before COVID-19 struck.
While MicroTau initially focused on the aviation industry to minimise fuel costs and emissions, the tech also has scope to be applied in the shipping and wind turbine sectors.
“The MicroTau technology has the potential to be a cost-effective, scalable solution that can be retrofitted to existing transport to help minimise the carbon footprint of major transport industries,” CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said.
“The company’s unique technology offers a potential competitive advantage due to its lightweight and ease of application. This is a genuine breakthrough solution to a longstanding technical challenge in aviation.
“With application across aviation and shipping, the technology has the potential to play a practical role in addressing the major challenges in mass transport in a globalised world.”
The CEFC investment in MicroTau was made through the specialist Clean Energy Innovation Fund, currently managed by specialist fund manager Virescent Ventures.
Bilinsky also highlighted potential usage of the technology for defence aerospace applications.
"MicroTau’s shark skin product enhances mission capabilities including range, speed, endurance, and payload capacity. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop our relationships with defence operators and manufacturers in Australia and internationally," he said.
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