Researchers at Queen's University in Belfast have developed a new system to prevent ice from forming on aircraft.
Several fatal aircraft accidents have been attributed to ice build-up over wing surfaces.
Conventional anti-icing systems on most passenger aircraft are based on hot air 'bled' from the engines and piped to the inner surface of the wing.
The heat is then transferred to the outer surface by thermal conduction, which stops the ice from building.
This system adds weight and maintenance requirements, and is not energy efficient, particularly on the new generation of composite aircraft.
When a plane travels through clouds in cold weather layers of ice can form on its wings, propellers or jet intakes. This can increase drag and reduce lift, potentially leading to loss of control.
Now scientists at Queen's have developed a more efficient alternative, an ultra-lightweight heater based on 'webs' made from carbon nanotubes (CNT), which can also be used for de-icing.
Professor Brian Falzon from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering led the university's team to the discovery.
He said the research forms part of a larger programme aimed at developing the aircraft structures of tomorrow.
Professor Falzon added: "When we carried out testing, we discovered that the newly developed CNT heaters achieved rapid heating, which shows that the CNT heaters could quickly de-ice aircraft and provide effective ice protection in flight."
The team is developing further research, and hopes it will be in use within a few years.