Investing in a Cleaner Future

R&D – and patience – lead to environmentally responsible new materials for aircraft.

August 21, 2015 in Environment

Jill Seebergh sits behind small metal samples used in the laboratory to test innovative aircraft coatings. Seebergh's team of engineers and scientists in Boeing’s Chemical Technology Group are developing paints, primers and other surface coatings with a focus on environmentally responsible materials


Finding solutions to some of the tough environmental issues facing the aerospace industry isn’t easy or fast. But Jill Seebergh and a team of engineers and scientists in Boeing’s Chemical Technology Group aren’t daunted by the long lead times in research and development.

“Developing a new technology can take ten years or longer. But if you don’t take the first step and try new ideas, then at the end of ten years you have nothing,” said Seebergh, a Technical Fellow in the group that leads research and development. “It’s worth the investment of time and resources when we successfully implement environmentally progressive materials and processes.”

The patience and persistence have paid off. Seebergh’s group develops paints, primers and other surface coatings with a focus on non-toxic substances that can replace hazardous chemicals—most notably hexavalent chromium, which is widely used to prevent corrosion on commercial and military aircraft.

Seebergh said a good success story is the development of Boegel, a non-toxic water-based surface treatment used to prepare metal surfaces for painting, bonding and sealing. It replaced several products that contain chromium and other hazardous chemicals and is now used on all Boeing commercial jetliners and many military aircraft, as well.

Boegel does not replace all coatings that contain chromium used on aircraft. Research continues throughout the industry to develop effective non-chromated corrosion inhibitors and coatings, particularly for interior applications, Seebergh added.

In other research, Boeing is collaborating with NASA and other partners on cutting-edge technologies that will enable more environmentally preferred airplane performance. For example, coatings that reduce the build-up of bugs and ice on exterior surfaces can reduce drag, weight, and energy consumption of an aircraft, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

“This is not your every-day paint you’d buy in a store. It takes government, universities and industry working together to develop materials that meet aerospace requirements and can deliver the environmental benefits we want,” Seebergh said.

Seebergh said she enjoys the opportunity at Boeing to see a new technology progress through the entire lifecycle. “There are few companies where you can be involved from the very beginning of technology development to its ultimate implementation on a product. It’s amazingly satisfying.”