Real-time sensors can monitor frost and ice buildup on airplanes and turbines. (Image: UBC)

Ice build-up on aircraft and wind turbines can impact the safety and efficiency of their systems.

Microwave sensors were developed that can identify in real time these accumulations while calculating the rate of melting. This is crucial data for aviation, for keeping flights on time, and renewable energy applications since power generation output of wind turbines diminishes as a result of ice accumulations.

The sensors, which include a protective layer, are being tested by the aviation industry through a rigorous approval process. This needs to be done before it can become a permanent fixture on aircraft. The researchers are collaborating with a number of wind turbine companies to adapt the sensors into wind farms. The wind farm application is a slightly more straightforward proposition because the sensors can be mounted at the same altitude as the blades without having to be mounted to the blades — this removes certain calculation variables that are related to motion.

In the midst of these breakthroughs, the researchers uncovered another first when it comes to ice sensing technology. Their latest innovation can sense salty ice, which freezes at colder temperatures. Interest in understanding and monitoring saltwater ice formation is increasing due to issues caused by saltwater ice on oil rigs and marine infrastructure. The researchers are working towards the introduction of microwave/radar-based technology to address this challenge.

By incorporating an antenna into the sensor, the results can be shared in real time with the operator in order to address the buildup. The team is studying how the microwave and antenna, which have proven to be durable and robust, can be modified for various applications including ice and moisture sensing.

For more information, contact Patty Wellborn at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 250-317-0293.