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Breaking the Ice: GE Global Research Scientists Achieve New Anti-Icing Breakthrough With Nanotechnology

Scientists from GE Global Research announced this morning yet another breakthrough in an ongoing project to develop new anti-icing applications from coatings created in the lab using nanotechnology, which involves the science of materials at a very tiny scale (a nanometer is one-billionth of one meter). At the nano-level, materials behave differently than they do at a normal scale, and GE material scientists have focused on creating superhydrophobic, or extremely water repellent, materials as coatings for surfaces that could prevent icing. The new research presented today shows that in addition to dramatically reducing ice adhesion on surfaces, the experimental “nanotextured” coatings also delay ice from forming under simulated atmospheric icing conditions in the lab. While a non-coated surface will experience ice formation almost immediately under those conditions, the GE researchers found that a surface with the nanotextured coating won’t for approximately 80 seconds.

Check out this video of water drops bouncing off superhydrophobic surfaces, captured using a high-speed camera at GE Global Research.

That delay could mean big efficiency gains and cost savings for operators of machines susceptible to ice buildup, such as jet engines and wind turbines. The EPA estimates that nearly 25 million gallons of deicing agents are used on aircraft departing from commercial airports in the U.S. every year. That’s in addition to the extensive, energy-intensive heating systems used on planes to prevent ice formation. GE’s scientists are also exploring applications of both low ice adhesion and anti-icing surfaces for the blades of wind turbines, battered as they often are by frozen wind, which can cause ice buildup and drag on their rotation. 

And that’s not all. GE researchers are also developing superhydrophobic coatings to aid in moisture control in steam turbines, which can boost efficiency. Applied to other parts of a gas turbine, the nanocoatings can reduce “fouling,” enabling the turbine to run more efficiently and reduce maintenance shutdowns.

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