Eliminating ice build-up in the sky, on the road, or even in the ocean, to get us home safely and efficiently

A little over 60 years ago, the aviation industry was abuzz with the development of de-icing treatments and chemistries that were making it possible to fly safely in colder temperatures. Today, pretty much anyone that lives in a frosty climate has good reason to be excited about the next generation of icephobic coatings.

Imagine planes that don’t need to be de-iced, sidewalks that don’t need to be shoveled, highways without black ice, rain gutters that don’t freeze — sound too good to be true?

In an effort to better understand the latest developments in icephobic coatings, we caught up with Shiona Stewart, Industry Marketing Manager for Transportation, Industrial Furniture and Floor Coatings at BASF in Southfield, MI.

What industries are currently using icephobic treatments?

SS: Transportation and aerospace are the main ones on which we are primarily focused. Most people are familiar with the importance of ensuring that we mitigate the amount of ice buildup on plane wings and bodies for safety. During winter months it’s not at all unusual to have to go through a de-icing phase before taking off at your local airport. This is done to ensure that planes are treated to prevent hazards associated with ice buildup.

How is an icephobic coating different from the de-icing treatment currently used?

SS: De-icing, as we know it now, is not a coating. It’s a spray treatment based on a propylene glycol-based system that temporarily removes the ice from a plane. So once the plane sits overnight, it has to go back the next morning and be de-iced again.
 
Our longer-term intention is to have a coating system that repels and resists the ice formation or buildup, rendering the de-icing process unnecessary.

How does icephobic chemistry work?

SS: We’ve taken several approaches to determine which method will deliver optimal results depending on the application and environmental intensity the chemistry will be used for, and exposed to, during its lifetime.
 
The first approach is modifying the hydrophobic nature of a 2K PU system to ultimately lower the overall potential for ice to adhere to the coating surface. 
 
The second approach is modifying the freezing point at the surface of a coating, giving it a few degrees (5-10°C) of ice elimination.
 
Finally, our third option is pursuing an approach that will actually make a coating surface more hydrophilic so water is able to wet out or “sheet away” if we have a slight angle from the horizontal; this would eliminate ice buildup on the surface. We currently have additives in testing to determine the amount of improvement these approaches are enabling us to provide our customers.
 
A longer-term development program is in process to impart significant icephobic improvements to our resin technologies.

What environmental benefits do icephobic coatings offer?

SS: With a coating, the icephobic properties will be bound into the polymer backbone. Because it’s bound into the coating itself, as a permanent or semi-permanent film, it’s not going to runoff. That means less exposure to the environment. From a sustainability perspective, you’re talking about waste reduction, less labor, and energy conservation.

How will icephobic coatings conserve energy?

SS: If you have an icephobic coating on an airplane or a ship, for example, you can potentially reduce the overall drag. From a sustainability play this translates into lower fuel consumption because you’re getting better fuel economy. This is in large part due to the fact that you’re not carrying as much weight from ice, or you’re not getting the resistance as you’re going through the air or water.

Where does the reduction in labor come from?

SS: There are several areas where labor will be saved. The main one is that planes will not need to be de-iced repeatedly during winter months. This has the added benefit of improving overall throughput at the airport. You’re not getting backups on the tarmac or delays at the gates. It’s probably going to create a much more peaceful travel experience too.

What other industries could benefit from these coatings?

SS: Icephobic coatings could be quite important for the marine business unit. As mentioned, we believe there are potentially some great applications for ships; more specifically for topside deck coatings. When a ship is out at sea for a prolonged period of time, and it’s exposed to water from the ocean, or rain during transit in a cold climate, then you have the potential for freezing conditions. That will cause an unsafe walking surface.
 
In addition, you could potentially move the same type of technology into coatings for asphalt, or possibly even the runways that airplanes use. Sidewalks, roofs and even gutters are in consideration. The possibilities are limitless!

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