A National Science Foundation grant is expected to light a fire under research aimed at developing a coating that can repel snow and ice—a performance characteristic that could hold critical safety implications for a variety of surfaces.
University of Illinois at Chicago mechanical and industrial engineering professor Constantine Megaridis has received the $320,000 NSF grant to investigate so-called “icophobic behavior” by select surfaces.
Beyond Water Repellent
While scientists and engineers have developed several products that repel water and, to a lesser degree, snow and ice, considerable room remains for something “new and improved,” the university notes.
|An ice-phobic coating holds promise for improved safety on various surfaces, including aircraft wings, researchers say.|
Megaridis hopes that he and his Micro/Nanoscale Fluid Transport Laboratory team at UIC will find new ways to meet this goal.
Megaridis uses coatings with so-called “tunable” properties such as controlled micro-to-nanoscale texture that display superhydrophobicity (the ability to repel water) or the ability to self-clean.
His recent research to develop coatings that are both superhydrophobic and self-cleaning has yielded promising results, the university reports.
Phobic and Conducting
Now, Megaridis wants to begin research to see if such coatings can be improved, adding the “icephobic” quality and testing surface coatings that both shed water and conduct electricity.
“The main idea is to be able to provide a skin that's both phobic and electrically conducting—the latter meaning you can heat it up,” he said.
He explains: “Imagine you have a chunk of ice anchored in a rough, cold surface. Trying to remove it is challenging, because the ice is stuck. But if you add heat locally and melt the contact area between the ice and the surface skin, you create a thin lubricating layer for the ice to slip off.”
Turbine, Aviation Applications
Megaridis's lab work will focus on characterizing various surface coatings to better understand how to make these surfaces improve water beading and roll-off. The shape of the water bead and inclination of a surface for water to roll off are two key properties characterizing surface phobicity, or surface energy, which defines the affinity between a solid and liquid.
“Teflon, for example, has very low surface energy. Water won't stick to it,” Megaridis said. “Water sticks on metal preventing roll-off. Metals have high surface energy.”
His team hopes to learn how to make more durable, ice-repelling coatings for critical and high-value applications, such as energy-generating wind turbine blades.
“When ice deposits on turbine blades, it can rob a big portion of the turbine's output,” he said. “Aircraft wing icing is another long-term problem we'd like to work on.”
Megaridis says his laboratory has the right tools to study the problem. “We're trying to push science so that products get better in this area,” he said. “We want to produce something that has value for the real world.”