July 22, 2008

Lightening the Load of the Friendly Skies

Heavy thoughts are weighing down the aviation industry. In the first half of last year, jet fuel averaged approximately $80 per forty-two-gallon barrel; for the same period in 2008, that barrel averaged over $132. If these trends continue, the nation's airlines will collectively spend over $60 billion this year on fuel, more than five times what they spent in 2002. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that eight airlines have gone out of business since November 2007.

Each and every pound shed from a plane saves airlines fourteen thousand gallons of fuel each year; it is no wonder, then, that in order to stay competitive the airline industry needs to find ways to lighten up. Recent measures and proposals made to lighten the load of the friendly skies have included:

-- Charging for each piece of checked luggage as a way of discouraging passengers from over-burdening flights

-- Replacing seats and food carts with new, lighter-weight models

-- Instructing load planning, baggage handling, and ramp personnel to better distribute cargo to ensure that aircraft have the most fuel-efficient center of gravity

-- Carrying less water in airplane bathroom faucets and toilets

-- Eliminating printed pilot manuals in favor of onscreen computer displays

-- More frequent power-washing of jet engines to reduce the drag caused by dirt and debris

"While the aviation industry struggles with these and other Draconian measures, the answer may lie in lighter, more environmentally sound engineering materials," says William Robinson, CEO of Bellingham-based Integral Technologies.

Integral has developed a moldable conductive plastic, named ElectriPlast(TM), a polymer blend that can be used to conduct electricity and is, on average, 80% lighter than copper or other metals used in wiring and battery designs. Consisting of small pellets of plastic-wrapped metal fibers, ElectriPlast does what no plastic has done before: it can carry electrical currents as capably as copper. Lightweight, versatile, and inexpensive to produce, ElectriPlast may usher in a new dawn of electronics and transportation.

"This family of highly conductive polymers may have all 'the right stuff' for coping with issues such as size, capacity, cost, and fuel savings," explains Robinson. "With gasoline at nearly $5 a gallon and sky-high airline prices, ElectriPlast may lighten the burden for consumers and the aviation industry." For more information visit www.itkg.net.