Ice buildup meets its match

Imagine never having to scrape your windscreen or defrost your freezer again. Or never having to worry about ice buildup on an aeroplane wing…

It could become reality in the near future, all because Victor F. Petrenko, Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, has found a way to not only remove ice from a variety of materials, but to keep ice from forming in the first place.

Petrenko’s patented inventions, involving four different ice-manipulating methods, use low-voltage electricity to not only remove ice and prevent it from forming, but also to modify its stickiness.

Dartmouth has already granted two licenses covering specific applications of the technology to BFGoodrich and UTEK Corporation, and several others are expressing strong interest, including New York Power Authority, who is supporting Petrenko’s development of a prototype de-icer for power lines.

In January 2000, BFGoodrich acquired its license and exclusive rights to Petrenko’s de-icing technology for aerospace and marine applications. Together with Thayer School, BFGoodrich is developing a flying prototype de-icer.

And last November, Dartmouth Trustees granted a world-wide exclusive license to Ice Surface Development, Inc (ISDI), a subsidiary of UTEK Corporation, to Petrenko’s ice adhesion modification system for land-based vehicle applications. With this license, ISDI plans to develop a marketable windscreen de-icer as well as Petrenko’s ice-traction system.

This system works by inducing an electric field strong enough to significantly increase the friction between tyres and ice.

Ice’s notorious stickiness comes from its charged surface, which induces an opposite charge from the surface to which it adheres. The natural attraction between the opposite charges is what makes ice so hard to remove.

One of Petrenko’s inventions involves sending an electric current across the ice-material interface. In the case of de-icing aeroplanes, electrodes attached directly to aircraft surfaces would break down ice as it forms through the process of electrolysis, transforming ice directly into hydrogen and oxygen gases.

If any ice buildup does occur – which can happen if a large amount of moisture is hitting the plane – bubbles forming at the ice-metal interface generate pressure and literally push the ice off the surface. This same principle can work for ships, cars and trucks, windshields, offshore structures, roads and bridges, ski lifts, roofs, and the inside of a freezer.

As for keeping ice off power lines, ‘they produce their own electric field which can be adjusted to produce enough heat for a de-icing effect,’ he said. This is good news, considering the ice storm of 1998 in New England alone cost more than $5 billion, mostly from damage to power lines.

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