A Namib Desert beetle has inspired a new frost prevention technology that could save a lot of money, time and energy in the aerospace and wind energy industries. A team of materials scientists at Virginia Tech has discovered a new method for preventing and controlling frost, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. The Namib Desert beetle is famous for its ability to collect water and survive in one of the driest and hottest places on Earth.
Namib Desert beetle has unique bumps on its shells
In the Namib Desert of southwest Africa, standing water is nonexistent. The Desert beetle uses a unique method to capture airborne water on its shell. “I appreciate the irony of how an insect that lives in a hot, dry desert inspired us to make a discovery about frost,” said lead author Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech.
Bumps on the creature’s shell encourage the formation of moisture droplets, but its smoother sides repel moisture. It helps channel the condensed water directly to the Desert beetle’s mouth. Researchers learned from the beetle that they can “control where the dew drops grow.” To replicate the unique patterns of bumps on the beetle’s shell, researchers overlaid water-attractive patterns on a water-repelling surface, a process called photolithography.
It could be scaled up for industrial use
The water-attractive chemical patterns attract droplets, while the surface repels it. As a result, water droplets remain separated and running. If water droplets are confined to small surface areas and kept apart, frost will fail to form. Scientists successfully tested the method on a small surface of only a centimeter. But they believe that it could be eventually scaled up for industrial use.
Currently, aerospace and wind energy industries use huge amounts of harsh chemicals to defrost wind turbines and aircraft wings. Keeping things dry requires huge expenditures. This is not the first time the Namib Desert beetle has inspired a unique solution to a major problem. In 2012, an American startup called NBD Nano mimicked the beetle’s natural ability to distil airborne water to develop a self-filling water bottle.