Scientists Unveil Ice-Melting Coating


Researchers at Rice University are working on developing a composite coating to help remove ice in cold-weather applications ranging from wind turbines to aircraft wings.

The research team tested its epoxy coating infused with graphene nanoribbons on a helicopter blade to prove its ability to melt ice under certain conditions, Rice University announced.

“Applying this composite to wings could save time and money at airports where the glycol-based chemicals now used to de-ice aircraft are also an environmental concern,” chemist James Tour said.

The team, who performed their work in Tour’s lab, recently published their findings as a paper titled “Composites of Graphene Nanoribbon Stacks and Epoxy for Joule Heating and Deicing of Surfaces” in the ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces journal of the American Chemical Society.

Earlier Developments

In earlier research, Rice University invented the process of “unzipping” nanotubes—that is, splitting carbon nanotubes to make flat nanoribbons, a technique that makes it possible to produce the ultrathin ribbons in bulk quantities. This process is also more inexpensive than producing large sheets of grapheme.

The resulting nanotubes are highly conductive, and when used in composites are able to interconnect and conduct electricity across the material with much lower loads.

The school lab’s previous tests showed the nanoribbon films could be used to de-ice radar domes and glass, as the films are transparent.

Testing Ice Removal

When testing the new application in the lab, scientists, led by graduate student Abdul-Rahman Raji, used a graphene nanoribbon-infused epoxy containing 5 percent nanoribbons at most.

They spread a thin coat of the composite on a section of helicopter rotor blade, embedded between the abrasion shield on the leading edge of the blade and the blade itself.

When the blade was chilled to minus-4-degree Fahrenheit, ice formed at a centimeter thick. To test the de-icing capabilities, a small electrical charge was applied that enabled the coating to deliver electrothermal heat, called Joule heating, which effectively melted the ice.

They were able to heat the composite to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit and said it remained “robust” in temperatures up to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blade coating process, Rice University

The researchers spread a thin coat of the composite on a section of helicopter rotor blade, embedded between the abrasion shield on the leading edge of the blade and the blade itself.

For wings or blades in motion, Tour said, the thin layer of water that forms first between the heated composite and the surface should be enough to loosen ice and allow it to fall off without having to melt completely.

In addition to applications as a de-icer on aircraft wings, wind turbine blades, transmission lines and other surfaces exposed to cold temperatures, Tour noted that the coating may also be used on aircraft to deliver a layer of protection against lightning strikes and provide an extra layer of electromagnetic shielding.

About the Researchers

Raji and Tour’s coauthors on the paper include Rice undergraduates Tanvi Varadhachary and Kewang Nan; graduate student Tuo Wang; postdoctoral researchers Jian Lin and Yongsung Ji; alumni Yu Zhu of the University of Akron and Bostjan Genorio of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia; and research scientist Carter Kittrell.

Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Carson Helicopter supported the research.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating Materials; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Research and development; Specialty functions; Transmission Towers; Wind Farm; Wind Towers

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