Researchers from Imperial College London and University College London are planning to develop a material that could be coated onto pipes to enable water to flow more efficiently through them.
Many arid countries around the world such as Australia and Libya rely on vast pipeline networks to transport water to areas where it is scarce. However, the resistance between the pipe walls and the flowing water causes friction, which means that large amounts of energy have to be used to pump the large volume of water to its destination.
To address this, Dr Michael Templeton, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial, and Dr Andrew Wills, from the Department of Chemistry at UCL, are aiming to develop a material to reduce this friction.
To do so, they plan to mimic the special chemical properties and physical structure at the microscopic level of some of the most slippery surfaces in nature — and one of the surfaces that they are exploring is dolphin skin.
Like the dolphin’s skin, the new material could have nanoscopic bumps, which will control the water flow, making it run more easily over its surface. It could also be coated with water-repellent chemicals that will reduce the friction between water particles and the pipe surface.
The researchers expect that the new material will be in a form that could be applied to the inside of pipes, either as a material that lines the pipes or as a spray.
The team believes that there may also be applications for the material in other industries that require the long-distance transport of fluids, such as the oil and gas sector.