Rice University scientists embedded graphene nanoribbon-infused epoxy in a section of helicopter blade to test its ability to remove ice through Joule heating. (Tour Group/Rice University)
A thin coating of graphene nanoribbons in epoxy developed at Rice University has proven effective at melting ice on a helicopter blade. The lab melted centimeter-thick ice from a static helicopter rotor blade in a -4° F environment. When a small voltage was applied, the coating delivered electrothermal heat – called Joule heating – to the surface, which melted the ice.

The nanoribbons produced commercially by unzipping nanotubes are highly conductive. Rather than trying to produce large sheets of expensive graphene, the lab determined years ago that nanoribbons in composites would interconnect and conduct electricity across the material with much lower loadings than traditionally needed. Previous experiments showed how the nanoribbons in films could be used to de-ice radar domes and even glass, since the films can be transparent to the eye.