University of Michigan researchers have designed an ice repellent so effective that it can make surfaces so ice-proof that a simple breeze of air would be enough to make ice slide off.
The team hopes that the new finding could help to the development of a new generation of ice repellents for air crafts, windshields, wind turbines, and even roads and sidewalks.
Researchers explained that their approach was different. Instead of trying to develop yet another chemical ice-proofer, they focused on creating a rubbery substance that can be sprayed on surfaces to clear away ice. So, they swapped chemistry with physics.
“We’ve discovered a new knob to turn, using physics to change the mechanics of how ice breaks free from a surface,”
Kevin Golovin, one of the scientists involved in the project, recently told reporters.
He also explained that ice usually forms a strong physical bond with other rigid surfaces, so a repellent needs much force to shatter that bond. So, making ice stick on a rubbery surface instead, means that the repellent doesn’t need as much force to clear the ice.
Anish Tuteja noted that so far no team had explored the possibilities a rubbery surface to lower ice stickiness. Tuteja stated that previous research had focused on simply repelling water in the ice, rather than taking a different approach.
According to a research paper on the discovery, an icephobic surface needs an ice stickiness pressure that it is lower than 100 kilopascals. By sifting through various types of elastomers, scientists managed to identify an elastomer that lowers ice stickiness pressure to 4 kilopascals.
At this level of adhesion, ice could be removed by a light breeze. Plus, the elastomer was extremely durable and stable, surviving a harsh winter after being left outside in the extreme cold for several months.
Furthermore, the elastomer was also very versatile. Researchers were able to adjust it to different surfaces and scenarios. The team noted that the softer the elastomer, the stronger its ability to repel ice was. Golovin praised the new material for letting the team ‘fine-tune’ it for various purposes.
Researchers said, however, that more work needs to be done before the ice-repellent becomes commercially available. So, it would take years before it reaches the shelves, although it holds great potential for high-risk sectors such as transportation and the aerospace industry.
Tuteja acknowledged that making the elastomer an effective ice-repellent for windshields and air crafts was a “very complex” task, but the team was currently working on it.
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