Comment |

A Chilly Surface Prep Method Gains Steam


By Lee Wilson

In my years in the corrosion mitigation industry, I’ve found that it’s all about change. Don’t get me wrong: If something is not broken, then why fix it? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as they say. However, if improvements can be made in order to enhance industry practice, improve quality or ensure safety, then believe me, I will try my very best to see if I can make industry changes.

The reason that I bring this up is that people don’t like change. Change unsettles folks; people become scared of the unknown and sometimes cannot see the benefits that change can make.

In the spirit of change: I was recently invited to a demonstration of dry ice blasting.

I am highly open to change and relish new advancements in technology. However, as many of my colleagues will testify, I am also ever skeptical of new technological advancements. There are regular changes within the industry, but rarely changes that are potentially revolutionary and when I am informed of such changes, being the skeptic that I am, I must see for myself before casting judgement or appraisal. Usually, things really are not as good as they seem, and there always are pros and cons of every new advancement; with this is mind, I was determined to find them.

A Cool Way to Blast

Dry ice blasting has been known by many names over the decades, be it “dry ice cleaning,” “dry ice dusting,” “CO2 blasting” and, I am led to believe, “environmentally sustainable cleaning” at some point. However, regardless of the terminology, the process is similar to abrasive blast cleaning, wherein blast media is accelerated within a pressurized airstream to remove surface contaminants and impurities from a designated substrate. The main difference is the medium used.

Dry ice blasting uses frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) dry ice pellets, as opposed to grit, shot or sand.

Dry ice blasting is nothing new: The first patent regarding the development and design of modern-day, single-hosed dry ice blasting technology was awarded in 1986. Since then, it has been a well-used method of surface preparation for years. However, despite the advantages that the method of preparation potentially provides, it has not been the preferred choice in regards to abrasive medium selection within the industry.

One of the main advantages of dry ice blasting is that in this method, unlike all other conventional abrasive mediums, the CO2 sublimes; therefore, there is no generation of secondary waste. Since dry ice evaporates completely as a gas, only the material removed is left for disposal: rust, paint coatings, mill scale etc. This is a huge benefit.

Secondary waste from abrasive media has been known to cause premature coating failures due to excessive dust. Additionally, inclusions contained on the substrate pre-coating the dust particles have also been known to get into sensitive equipment and machinery parts and have led to substantial repair bills for coating contractors. However, this is not the only benefit of dry ice blasting.

Safety Concerns

I think we all have to agree that safety should come first and this, from an engineering perspective, is what really drew me to researching dry ice blasting. You see, it really is a safer alternative: Many conventional abrasive media are known to contain toxic chemicals and produce harmful emissions. Dry ice blasting does not.

This makes the blast medium far less potentially harmful to production operators and greatly reduces the risk to employee health and safety. It is this factor that we really need to be focusing upon. Plain and simple, operators are not exposed to abrasive media nor the chemicals which they contain.

In addition to the lack of wastage materials and dusts, the CO2 medium also has two other major pros: It’s non-flammable and non-explosive. These are two huge benefits for maintenance work, particularly on oil and gas installations, where blasting works have to be executed during shutdowns in order to prevent live blasting.

Does It Work?

Clearly the environmental uses of this cleaning medium are clear for all who have struggled with abrasive medium removal to see! If you can in effect remove the waste, then why not?

However, this depends upon one thing: Does the dry ice cleaning method produce the same results as conventional blasting medium?

I am steadily starting to believe that it does; you just have to watch this demonstration of dry ice removing PFP. Any of my respected colleagues who have had to endure the painstaking task of removing cured passive fire protection will testify as to how arduous this process is. As per the demonstrations which I witnessed, the dry ice stream removed heavy paint materials and PFP test plates with ease. The post-removal adhesion values were well above 11Mpa prior to removal, and the materials where clearly tightly adherent. In my opinion, this is a remarkable breakthrough in technology.

Dry Ice and Surface Profile

It is common belief that dry ice does not leave a surface profile. That’s a common myth: Dry ice blasting does leave a surface profile, although certainly not in the value range of that produced by abrasive blast media, nor what is typically specified for most conventional coating systems. However, an Ra profile is produced.

To be fair, this was at a company which demonstrated its latest technology and revolutionary delivery systems. I would agree that this is not industry standard; however, it’s clear that major steps and advancements are being made. This was fairly obvious to me upon the demonstrations; the cleanliness could easily be compared to NACE 1/SSPC SP5 in that there remained no visual surface contamination on the test plates after blasting.

Owners and operators are heavily involved in research and developments of the capabilities of CO2 products. The interest has always been there; however, for a number of reasons, in the past the cleaning rates were not as rigorous as they are today, making the process non-feasible from a production perspective. As can be seen from the videos, this is no longer the case, and the technology advancements now should allow this medium to revolutionize the industry. It simply makes sense.

Challenges to Growth

So what is stopping dry ice blasting? There are two main factors involved.

The first is how I started with this blog: People don’t like change, irrespective of the clearly abundant advantages this medium holds for corrosion mitigation. However, the industry has always been changing, particularly when it comes to surface preparation mediums and cleanliness standards.

The second: the lack of a standard.

There is no standard to date by which to compare the cleanliness achieved. This is a major drawback. Taking into consideration the general appearance of the blast after completion on Rust Grades A,B,C and D, it would be fair to say that visually there is a strong comparison in finish to other abrasive media listed in SSPC Vis 1. I personally do not believe that it is beyond the realm of possibility to have the dry ice abrasive medium added to Vis 1; however, I personally believe that dry ice blasting should have its own separate standard, developed much like the waterjetting standards. This would then save any ambiguities which could be encountered whilst in the field.

Dry Ice Risks

There are, of course, residual risks associated with dry ice blasting. For example, as soon as the dry ice particles impact and penetrate the surface contaminant, energy is released, causing the particles to sublime into a much larger volume of CO2 gas. The gas then rapidly expands, and simply blasts the contaminant away from the substrate, into the airstream.

We have to remember that carbon dioxide is increasingly toxic, starting at concentrations above 1 percent, and can also displace oxygen resulting in asphyxia if equipment is not used in a ventilated area. In addition, because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, exhaust vents are required to be at or near ground level to efficiently remove the gas. At normal pressure, dry ice is −78 °C (−108 °F), and must be handled with insulated gloves. Eye and ear protection are required to safely use dry ice cleaning equipment. Compared to other blasting-cleaning methods, dry ice blasting produces fewer waste products and does not require clean-up of a blasting medium. The waste products can be swept up, vacuumed or washed away depending of course upon the containment.

Information like this would of course be available in a standard if there was one! I will of course be keeping my readers well updated with the standard development; hopefully, one of the leading institutes will soon see the remarkable benefits of having a technical standard based on dry ice media in circulation and I look forward to potentially working with any institute which would like to go down this route.

I am carrying out my own research and development in regards to the medium’s technical abilities for industrial use. As can be seen by the recent demonstration videos, the cleaning rates are phenomenal. There is very little wastage; thick, tightly adherent coatings are now being easily removed with the CO2 medium. It really is impressive stuff, with major leaps in technology since the first patent back in the 1980s.


Lee Wilson

Lee Wilson, CEng, FICorr, is a NACE Level 3-certified CIP Instructor, NACE Corrosion Specialist, NACE Protective Coating Specialist and Senior Corrosion Technologist, as well as an ICorr Level 3 Painting Inspector and Level 2 Insulation Inspector. The author of the best-selling Paint Inspector’s Field Guide, Lee was named one of JPCL Top Thinkers: The Clive Hare Honors in 2012. Contact Lee.



Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Engineers; Inspection; Institute of Corrosion (ICorr); Lee Wilson, CEng, MICorr; NACE; North America; Quality Control; Quality control; SSPC; Ice/CO2 blasting; Surface Preparation; Surface preparation

Comment from bart de cremer , (2/16/2017, 10:56 AM)

highly important information from a clever man , congrats Lee !

Comment from Lee Wilson, (2/16/2017, 12:08 PM)

Thank you kindly Bart for your comments and interest in the article! Any of our PFP application colleagues will testify as to how arduous this process is. As per the demonstrations which I witnessed, the dry ice stream removed heavy paint materials and PFP test plates with ease. The pre-removal adhesion values were well above 11Mpa prior to removal, and the materials where clearly tightly adherent. In my opinion, this is a remarkable breakthrough in technology. I really hope the standard commitees start to make moves on this fastly developing technology and look at standard development this is after all what the industry is asking for! Im hoping SSPC continue to be a leader in standard development and look into bringing the standard to the industry.

Comment from Mark Edmonds, (2/16/2017, 1:41 PM)

Lee, I have seen dry ice blasting on concrete and carbon steel. One note for your followers to know is that this is a loud process. The steel project was literage pontoons (INLS) for NAVFAC (US Navy.) It was new steel in an area that could not be contaminated with standard abrasive but still needed the Navy standard 2-4 mils surface profile. The required surface profile was achieved by adding sponge abrasive to the dry ice stream. The results were the elimination of needing to do an SP-1 due to the cleaning action of dry ice on machine and hydraulic oils, establishment of the required 2-4 mils surface profile, very little dust and dirt achieved by using sponge grit, and very little clean up of the leftover sponge abrasive. This was done in the year 2005 time frame so maybe new technology has made addition of sponge unnecessary to get the proper surface profile. All in all, I agree with your assessment as to the validity of dry ice blasting.

Comment from Lee Wilson, (2/16/2017, 3:33 PM)

Hi Mark, Some good comments I find this concept rather intriguing the idea of a (working mix) sounds like something I would like to look into further in the future for potential developments. My main focus at present is trying to have a standard developed in regards to cleanliness achieved by Dry Ice Blasting which can then be incorporated in to specifications and standards. The lack of a standard is holding the concept back and therefore also withholding the pros from a environmental and safety aspect back from the industry. I do hope the commitees are looking into standard development as the advantages from an economical, environmental and safety perspective are clearly aparent. I believe it just makes more sense now that the cleanliness rates can clearly be achieved to have a comparable standard in place. Thanks for your comments Mark

Comment from Andreas Momber, (2/17/2017, 4:40 AM)

I have a comment regarding the standardization of dry ice blasting. The "Production Standard of the German Shipbuilding Industry", 7th edition, 2006, page 9, ranks dry ice blasting as a surface preparation method generating a surface quality equivalent to P St 2 and P St 3 (according to ISO 8501-2).

Comment from Lee Wilson, (2/17/2017, 6:00 AM)

Hi Andreas, This is precisely why we need a standard! How can the cleanliness as seen in the demonstrations in the articles be visually compared to a mechanical cleaning preparation standard? We have all seen the visual assesment for comparrison in ISO8501-1 and the mechanical preparation and abrasive blast cleanlines standards in Vis 1 and Vis 3 there is no correlation between mechanical preparation and the cleanliness achieved in the article. There is no mention in ISO8501-1 nor BS7079 Part A1 of a comparrison or a equivalent to Dry Ice Blasting cleanliness achieved. This my friend is why we need a standard in order to compare the surface cleanliness achieved by the method of blasting with an international standard.

Comment from Warren Graves, (2/21/2017, 10:14 AM)

Years ago I was involved with a demonstration of dry ice blasting on steel in a humid cool envroment. The drawback that the demonsteration showd was that because of the extreme cold of the dry ice the surface was quickly covered with a heavy layer of frost. Secondly, the dry ice did not remove some very old coating that appeared to be coal tar. I have specified the use of dry ice to remove coating that is covered with oil and it works very well for that. It is also useful in removing ink for printing equipment as it does not damage the equipment. But every method has its limitations.

Comment from Gordon Kuljian, (4/11/2017, 8:23 PM)

It is used out here in San Diego to clean ventilation ducting on ships. I saw regular ice (H20) blasting back in a shipyard in the 1980's and because of the cool temperature (combined with hot humid conditions) the condensation and flash rusting was almost immediate. Like the others said; there are places for the technology for sure. I can only imagine what the tree-huggers would say about releasing CO2 (a known greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere! Hopefully they are not reading your article.

Comment from Bill Patterson, (4/12/2017, 7:28 AM)

Gordon's hope is in vain. Just how much CO2 is released into the environment by this process relative to other sources of green house gases, or is that an irrelevant question now that The Donald has declared that he doesn't believe in anthropogenic climate change, thus relegating it to the false news category? Early in the article when I saw this process labelled as "environmentally sustainable cleaning", I wondered whether someone was trying to whitewash the environmental impact or whether it was a matter of willful blindness. The benefits sound tremendous, but need to be weighed against all disadvantages and costs, not just the ones that appear on the contractor's balance sheet.

Comment from Steve Brown, (4/13/2017, 4:00 AM)

Just a response to those who have raised environmental concerns (and I am a tree hugger). .....Industrial carbon dioxide originates from natural sources (brewing beer for example !!) or is a purified by-product from chemical reactions such as ammonia synthesis. Therefore it has NO (zero) influence on the CO2 balance. WE have used this blasting technique with some success here in the UK nuclear industry, but it is still quite rare, probably because (mainly) of slower production rates and limited specialist contractor base.

Comment from Scott Sammons, (4/13/2017, 5:31 AM)

Unless the dry ice is produced on site, I have difficulty imagining how the media would be transported. Last I knew beer production did add to the CO2 balance much like livestock production. I'm not sure about Mr. Brown's equation.

Comment from Steve Brown, (4/18/2017, 5:37 AM)

Scott, you are correct. The point therefore is that we all need to stop drinking beer ! Using the by-product (in this case dry ice) itself does not add anything to emissions (we are using a gas that would be emitted anyway). However, I have to say I for one like beer way too much to be first in line. Regards, Steve.

Comment from David Shaw, (5/8/2017, 5:15 PM)

I've only seen this process during a demonstration session, we provided a Chartek coated test piece as that is my area of interest, the removal speed I witnessed was nothing like the video in your blog, I am receptive to change and new techniques and believe there is a place for dry ice blasting in the world of surface preparation , minimal clean up is the big attraction that I can see.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/11/2017, 2:10 PM)

David, Production rates in the videos look very similar to the pelletized dry ice blasting I tried out at a demo. Using pellets is key - not shavings. Adequate pressure is also key.

Comment from Ed Nimmons, (7/5/2017, 5:01 AM)

Hi All, to clarify a few points - we have carried out an independent assessment of dry ice blasting for environmental concerns and found the blasting process to be entirely carbon neutral. Secondly, I would like to note that one global firm has developed proprietary technology in producing media on site (Scott, I hope this helps) and in developing the advanced blasting process mentioned in the article that removes heavy scale and coatings at rates much higher than previously seen.

Comment from trevor neale, (7/5/2017, 8:51 AM)

Like others have reported we also investigated ice blasting in the early 90s as I remember it had very high sound levels and performed cleaning very well but rather slowly and or course no profile on steel substrates. I believe it found an early niche in the automotive industry where it was used to deburr machined alloys. Certainly Lees article article serves to remind us to be constantly on the look out for innovative ways to improve our industry and then ensure it is properly managed by establishing workable standards and specifications.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/6/2017, 10:04 AM)

Speaking of niches - it was excellent for cleaning historical (structural) concrete - took off the old paint, lichens and mildew nicely and left the original form marks.

Comment from Randy Duff, (3/29/2021, 7:14 AM)

This is interesting! I am new to the concrete industry and I have a lot to learn!

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Abrasives Inc.


Axxiom Manufacturing

Seal for Life/STOPAQ

KTA-Tator, Inc. - Corporate Office

HoldTight Solutions Inc.


Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

Sauereisen, Inc.


Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us