“Icephobic” Materials Make De-Icing A Cinch

Researchers from the University of Michigan have made a new “icephobic” material that could make getting rid of ice a whole lot easier.

The scientists say that the new material is “icephobic” and works on a number of different surfaces. In daily life ice can be an inconvenience, making roads and pavements slippery, but it is a major hazard in some industries.

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“Icephobic” materials could safe time and money

This new substance could make it far simpler to remove ice from airplanes, power lines and wind turbines, areas where ice is far more dangerous. Scientists have created rubbery repellants that are very effective at clearing ice.

Previous research focused on creating chemically water-repellant chemicals, the team of researchers discovered that they could push the ice off easier using rubbery polymers.

“Researchers had been trying for years to dial down ice adhesion strength with chemistry, making more and more water-repellent surfaces,” said Michigan graduate student Kevin Golovin, one of the participants on the project, in a university release on the discovery. “We’ve discovered a new knob to turn, using physics to change the mechanics of how ice breaks free from a surface.”

Testing sees ice removed by just a light breeze

Golovin explains that it takes a lot of force to break the bond between two rigid materials that stick together, such as glass and ice. However if the ice is on a rubbery surface it requires little force to break them apart, due to a phenomenon called interfacial cavitation.

“Nobody had explored the idea that rubberiness can reduce ice adhesion,” associate engineering professor Anish Tuteja said. “Ice is frozen water, so people assumed that ice repelling surfaces had to also repel water. That was very limiting.”

The paper was published in Science Advances, and describes icephobic surfaces as those that have an ice adhesion pressure below 100 kilopascals (kPa), in which ice removal requires less than 20 kPa of stress level. Some of the materials tested had ice adhesion strengths as low as 4 kPa.

Outdoor tests in Ann Arbor, Michigan, saw ice removed from a treated window by only a light breeze. The stability of the materials was demonstrated by the fact that ice adhesion levels remained around the same even after months outdoors.

Technology could lead to major advances in fight against ice

The consistency and durability of the materials can be adjusted depending on how and where it will be used. According to a press release, softer polymers don’t last as long but are better at repelling ice, and the variability of the polymers means that they could be used in many different industries.

“The great thing about our approach is that it’s easy to fine-tune it for any given application,” Golovin said.

It may be a few years until the “icephobic” elastomers are available for commercial use, but there is plenty of excitement over their potential use. There could be significant cost, time and energy savings associated with their use in fields such as power generation and transportation. One of the first uses floated by the researchers is for frozen food containers, in order to prevent them from sticking together.

“Using this technology in places like cars and airplanes will be very complex because of the stringent durability and safety requirements, but we’re working on it,” Mr. Tuteja said.