Engineers have made an important advancement in de-icing technology. A new study looks at a smart, hybrid (passive and active) de-icing system that combines an interfacial coating with an ice-detecting microwave sensor. Engineers at UBC Okanagan have been working with University of Toronto researchers to make a significant breakthrough in de-icing technology.
There are several methods for preventing ice from forming on planes and wind turbines:
- Heating: Planes and wind turbines can be equipped with heating elements, such as electrical deicing pads, to melt any ice that forms on their surfaces.
- Anti-icing fluids: These fluids can be applied to the surfaces of planes and wind turbines before ice is expected to form. They work by lowering the freezing point of water, preventing it from turning into ice.
- Coating: Certain coatings, such as those made of Teflon, can be applied to the surfaces of planes and wind turbines to make them more resistant to icing.
- Design modifications: Planes and wind turbines can be designed with features that prevent ice from forming, such as sloped surfaces that allow ice to slide off, or smooth surfaces that make it difficult for ice to adhere.
- Maintenance: Regular maintenance and inspections can help ensure that heating elements and other ice prevention measures are in good working order.
Their most recent study, published in this month’s issue of Nature Communications, looks at a smart, hybrid (passive and active) de-icing system that combines an interfacial coating with an ice-detecting microwave sensor.
Our new technology takes a hybrid approach by adding sensors within an ice repellent coating that can easily be added to aviation or wind turbine blades.Dr. Mohammad Zarifi
According to UBCO’s Dr. Mohammad Zarifi, this coating integrates the sensors into the material while allowing heat to dislodge ice without the need for a person or machine to physically melt it.
“Many of us have had the misfortune of sitting on a plane waiting for it to be de-iced while worrying about missing a connecting flight,” says Dr. Zarifi, Associate Professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering and co-author of the report. “Our new technology takes a hybrid approach by adding sensors within an ice repellent coating that can easily be added to aviation or wind turbine blades.”
Dr. Zarifi explains that undesired ice accumulation is problematic with many renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and hydroelectric dams, aviation, and power transmission. Ice mitigation strategies can be divided into either active or passive methods. Active de-icing involves an external energy input used to remove the ice, typically through thermal, chemical or mechanical methods. In contrast, passive de-icing either reduce the accretion rate of ice, lowers the adhesion strength between ice and the surface or both.
“Today, neither path to an ice-free surface is seen as a panacea, as active de-icing methods consume significant energy, and passive de-icing coatings cannot keep a surface ice-free indefinitely,” he adds. “A hybrid system combining passive and active de-icing technologies could be an appealing solution to ice accumulation problems.”
This is why the sensor, which will reside beneath the coating that will be applied to a turbine or aircraft, has the potential to be game-changing. The sensor acts as an ice detector, automatically activating the embedded heaters to melt the ice.
This results in a significant improvement in energy efficiency, which distinguishes this latest innovation from existing approaches, according to Zahra Azimi Dijvejin, doctoral student and lead author of the study.
“The hybrid approach enables the operator to quickly and accurately monitor the equipment on a long-term basis,” she explains. “Because the sensors can determine the need, the equipment will not need to be de-iced unnecessarily, avoiding wear-and-tear and wasting energy.”
The sensors, which are embedded in novel materials, have the potential to keep surfaces ice-free without the use of additional chemicals or energy-intensive methods. “We are transitioning from the experimentation phase to real-world usage and have seen the technology withstand harsh conditions,” Dr. Zarifi explains. “Right now, we’re working with Canadian turbine manufacturers to incorporate the technology for the upcoming winter.”