Airports are busy, especially during the winter. When passengers are waiting to board, the delays become longer when the aircraft has to be refilled with thousands of liters of de-icing fluid to help them fight the cold winter. But as soon as the plane takes off, most of the liquid is away from the surface of the aircraft and it ends up polluting freshwater streams and lakes.
In an effort to make a more efficient product immune to ice for such demanding industries and consumers, Sushant Anand, UIC Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Rukmava Chatterjee, a UIC Ph.D. student, has developed a more sustainable alternative to conventional de-icing agents. They say it can also benefit other industries.
“We questioned the longevity of cryoprotectants and looked at new ways to increase their effectiveness,” said Anand. “Glycols dissolve very quickly in the water and are washed away before the plane takes off, and this is a serious problem that costs hundreds of millions of dollars – most of which literally end up in the sewer. We thought, why not improve such chemicals themselves and make alternatives that can hold longer while being more bio-friendly. And that’s what we did. “
To achieve its goal, the researchers developed an extensive family of more than 80 antifreeze coatings, which can be classified as polymer solutions, emulsions, creams and gels. The formulations can be easily applied to aluminum, steel, copper, glass, plastic or any industrial surface without preconditioning or expensive surface treatments.
“Our coatings are an all-in-one package that can delay the formation of frost for long hours and at the same time cause any ice that forms on its surface to easily release a gentle breeze or easy slope of the substrate,” said Chatterjee.
Their work is reported in one Advanced materials article entitled “A family of frost-resistant and isphobic coatings.”
The coatings are a family of phase change material-based formulations and multifunctional coatings that can tailor solid contaminant adhesion to functional surfaces, ranging from ice to bacteria, regardless of their inherent material structure and chemistry. This was constructed by regulating how chemicals leak out of the material system and by creating a lubricating surface layer that is both slippery and non-freezing in nature.
The antifreeze gels are also transparent, which is crucial for applications such as traffic signals, runway lights that help pilots during landings, windshields in cars or building windows.
“Imagine coating your smartwatch with our gel that can inhibit ice growth in the cold negatives while preventing bacterial contamination,” said Chatterjee.
“Because our anti-icing sprays are bio-friendly and antibacterial, we even believe there is a potential to use them in agriculture to prevent crops from being destroyed by severe frosts,” said Anand. “But it’s a dream, and we need to do more studies to see if there will be any long-term negative effects on the plants.”
A worldwide patent application entitled “Compositions and Methods for Inhibiting Ice Formation on Surfaces” has been filed by UIC’s Office of Technology Management.
“There is great potential in these materials for many applications, and I think the day when commercial versions of our materials come out has only just come closer,” said Anand.
Anand Research Group members Hassan Bararnia and Umesh Chaudhuri collaborated with Chatterjee on the experiments.