From airplane wings to overhead power lines to the giant blades of wind turbines, a buildup of ice can cause problems ranging from impaired performance all the way to catastrophic failure. But preventing that buildup usually requires energy-intensive heating systems or chemical sprays that are environmentally harmful.
Now, MIT researchers led by Kripa Varanasi, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and postdocs Susmita Dash and Jolet de Ruiter have developed a completely passive, solar-powered way of combating ice buildup. The new system is described in the journal Science Advances.
The system is remarkably simple, based on a three-layered material that can be applied or even sprayed onto the surfaces to be treated. It collects solar radiation, converts it to heat, and spreads that heat around so that the melting is not just confined to the areas exposed directly to the sunlight. Once applied, it requires no further action or power source. It can even do de-icing work at night, using artificial lighting.