Ice buildup can cause all sorts of problems ranging from performance issues to catastrophic failures. For example, ice buildup can negatively impact things like airplanes, power lines, wind turbines, and the like. Preventing this ice buildup typically requires energy-intensive heating systems or environmentally-harmful chemical sprays.
But researchers at MIT have now developed a completely passive, solar-powered way of combating this ice buildup. The new system, described in a recent publication of the journal Science Advances, is remarkably simple. It’s based on a three-layered material that can be applied and even sprayed onto surfaces. The system collects energy from the sun, converts it to heat, and then spreads the heat around so that the melting is not just confined to the areas exposed directly to the sunlight. The system requires no further actions or source of power. It can even use artificial lighting to perform de-icing work at night.
The system’s top layer is an absorber, which traps incoming sunlight and converts it to heat. This material is highly efficient, absorbing 95% of incident sunlight. The purpose of the second layer – a thin layer of aluminum only 400 microns thick – is to spread the heat around. This layer is heated by the absorber and efficiently distributes the heat. The bottom layer is foam insulation. This insulation prevents any heat from getting wasted downward and keeps it on the surface.
Made from inexpensive and commercially available materials, the three layers are then bonded together and then bonded on to the desired surface. Or the layers can be sprayed on one layer at a time.
The MIT research team plans to continue to improve the system, testing it for best methods of application and for longevity.
Photo, posted January 2, 2014, courtesy of Jim Larrison via Flickr.