Losing time on the weekend or before having to go to work on the weekdays due to scraping ice off your vehicle of choice may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to researchers at the University of Michigan who have developed a spray-on ice repellent coating to combat icy buildup.
In a study feature in the journal, "Science Advances," Anish Tuteja, a professor of Materials Science and Engineering at UM, lead colleagues in developing a spray-on formula that can prevent an array of items - car windshields, airplanes and other equipment - from becoming frozen in ice.
The result of their experiment is a clear, rubbery solution that allows ice to be removed from treated surfaces through the force of gravity or a light breeze thanks to its "iceophobic" properties.
The journal explains the methodology behind Tuteja and his team's momentous discovery. The team chose to examine the ice-repelling qualities of rubbery surfaces, opting to focus their efforts in recreating these properties using a new coating formula. To do so, they looked at the properties of an assortment of synthetic materials such as polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), polymethylhydrosiloxane (PMHS) and silicone oil, combining them to create an all new solution.
The team then tested the effectiveness of this new solution by applying it to one half of a license plate, while leaving the entire object exposed to freezing rain overnight.
They came the next morning to find ice formations on the half that had iceophobic material applied to it, but those were easily sheared off. On the other hand, the half that had been left untreated was frozen solid.
The team went on to test the new formula on other materials such as glass materials and recorded similar findings. What makes this all possible is the phenomenon known as interfacial cavitation. Despite not being able to repel water, rubbery surfaces are able to prevent ice from becoming tightly bonded to them due their ability to change forms when exposed to small amounts of force.
Researchers also found that formula is also capable of helping materials become more resistance to ice-induced damage. For example, surfaces covered in the coating exhibited improved durability even after being exposed to high temperatures, peel tests, mechanical abrasion, salt spray corrosion and multiple freeze-thaw cycles.
Doctoral student Kevin Golovin noted the success of the experiment was largely due to the methodology behind the study. Instead of seeking to use chemistry to dial down ice adhesion strength, they used physics to change the mechanics behind how ice breaks free from a surface instead.
The team also noted that they can adjust the consistency and durability of the coating for different situations. For example, softer surfaces aren't as durable but can repel ice more effectively, while harder surfaces can last longer but be less ice-repellent. This variability will allow for the coating to be applied to a diverse array of industries, with frozen food packaging being the first on the list.
"I think the first commercial application will be in linings for commercial frozen food packaging, where sticking is often a problem. We'll probably see that within the next year," Tuteja said.
What about cars and airplanes - two applications that definitely come to mind - you ask?
"Using this technology in places like cars and airplanes will be very complex because of the stringent durability and safety requirements, but we're working on it," he added.
Check out a video of the solution in action below: