On your car windshield, ice is a nuisance. But on an airplane, wind turbine, oil rig, or power line, it can be downright dangerous. And removing it with the methods that are available today (usually chemical melting agents or labor-intensive scrapers and hammers) is difficult and expensive.
That could soon change thanks to a durable, inexpensive ice-repellent coating developed by University of Michigan researchers. Thin, clear, and slightly rubbery to the touch, the spray-on formula could make ice slide off equipment, airplanes, and car windshields with only the force of gravity or a gentle breeze. This could have major implications in industries like energy, shipping, and transportation, where ice is a constant problem in cold climates.
Made of a blend of common synthetic rubbers, the formula marks a departure from earlier approaches that relied on making surfaces either very water-repellent or very slippery.
"Researchers had been trying for years to dial down ice adhesion strength with chemistry, making more and more water-repellent surfaces," said Kevin Golovin, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering. "We've discovered a new knob to turn, using physics to change the mechanics of how ice breaks free from a surface."