While de-icing things can be a real pain, it's considered an inevitability of living in a cold climate. Yet according to an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, it doesn't have to be.
"It sort of goes against everything that people have thought (for) the last 80 or so years—which is quite fun," explained Kevin Golovin of the new anti-ice coating he helped develop.
The coating is a new class of surfaces called low interfacial toughness (LIT) materials that allow people to shed ice from large areas using little effort.
Golovin said LIT materials can be fabricated from commonplace paints and plastics, but possess superior performance against leading anti-icing materials in different applications such as de-icing power lines, aviation wings and and even in complex shapes, such as ice trays.
Cracks that form on the material easily propagate, making it easy to de-ice large surfaces. "I liken it to dominos, in the fact that, all you need to do is push down one domino and then your work is done," explained Golovin. "It doesn't matter how many dominos (there are)—the size doesn't matter."
The technology is thought to have sweeping potential in both the commercial and residential realms.
When asked to describe how well it works, Golvin suggested envisioning a horizontal piece of aluminum with ice formed on its surface: By moving it vertically, the weight of the ice will send the ice crashing to the ground.
The engineers behind the technology recently got a major endorsement, having been published in Science, a leading peer-reviewed academic journal.
"The fact that we were able to do something so new is why they were interested," said Golovin. "It just highlights how somewhat revolutionary the topic is."
In the article, the authors highlight the fact that over the last eight years, scientists have used one measure—ice adhesion strength—to characterize the bonding of ice. Yet in their work, they focus on a new measure, called "interfacial toughness" that they feel is far more relevant.
The public is likely to see the new technology in the automatic ice machines in fridges first, said Golovin. They operate by pouring water into a mould, which subsequently freezes. But in order to release the ice, the moulds have to be warmed up—a major energy drain.
"With these materials, you can actually just turn the mould upside down while keeping it cold, and (the ice) will just fall out," said Golovin.
As for windshields with the technology, that's something that could be down the road, said Golovin. "The fun thing would be, if you did put it on your windshield, you would just have to scrape out a tiny corner, and the entire windshield would be de-iced," he said with a laugh.
The research, in partnership with the University of Michigan, was funded by the US Office of Naval Research, the US Department of Defense and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.