Halifax-based advanced materials startup Nova Graphene has bagged a pair of defence contracts to develop graphene-based materials for protecting helicopter rotors from sand, ice and water damage.

Founded in 2017, Nova Graphene’s flagship offering is the CarbonEra suite of products, which are proprietary derivatives of graphene — a form of carbon in which molecules are arranged in a lattice structure.

The contracts were awarded by the Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program, or IDEaS, which funds private sector research and development with military applications, particularly deep tech plays.

Military helicopters are often required to operate in inclement weather or amid airborne particulates like sand. The leading edges of each rotor are covered in a protective surface meant to prevent erosion, which the IDEaS contract aims to see Nova Graphene strengthen. The military previously tried polymer and tape coatings as a means of strengthening the protective surface, but with little success.

The durability of the protective layer, Nova Graphene said in its press release, matters because the leading edges of a helicopter’s rotors degrade, which can cause the helicopter to vibrate during flight, sometimes forcing pilots to make emergency landings.