Researchers have discovered a 'smart' material that can be applied to any surface to repel ice and outperforms all others currently in use.
Icy conditions can be deadly, whether you are flying into bad weather or too close to power transmission lines during a storm, researchers said.
One side of the surface of the material known as a magnetic slippery surface (MAGSS) is coated with a magnetic material, while a thin layer of magnetic fluid - a mixture of fluid and iron oxide nanoparticles - is deposited on the other side. The magnetic fluid faces outside.
When a droplet of water hits the surface, the magnetic fluid acts as a barrier, stopping the droplet from reaching the solid surface.
"There's no adhesion of the ice to the solid surface, so it basically slides off the surface," said Hadi Ghasemi, Assistant Professor at the University of Houston in the US.
Anti-icing surfaces have a critical footprint on daily lives of humans ranging from transportation systems and infrastructure to energy systems, but creation of these surfaces for low temperatures remains elusive, researchers said.
Non-wetting surfaces and liquid-infused surfaces have inspired routes for the development of icephobic surfaces. However, high freezing temperature, high ice adhesion strength, and high cost have restricted their practical applications, they said.
Potential applications range from the aircraft industry - planes can encounter freezing rain or super-cooled water droplets while flying, leading to a buildup of ice and potentially, a crash - to the power industry, where icing can cause power poles, towers and transmission lines to collapse.
Ghasemi hopes to develop the coating as a spray that can be applied to any surface.
"These surfaces (MAGSS) provide a defect-free surface for ice nucleation and thereby lower the ice formation to close to homogenous nucleation limit," the researchers said.
"These surfaces promise a new paradigm for development of icephobic surfaces in aviation technologies, ocean-going vessels, power transmission lines and wind turbines in extreme environments," they said.
Among the advantages of the new material, Ghasemi said, is that it has a far lower freezing threshold than the best icephobic technology currently available - about minus 29 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit for current technology.
"These new surfaces provide the path to tackle the challenge of icing in systems, thereby improving the quality of human life," he said.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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