The superhydrophobic way to repel ice & bounce water

General Electric

For the past several years, GE’s been working with nanotechnology to understand and exploit so-called “superhydrophobic” materials — ones that are essentially super water repellent. While the idea is similar to “nano pants” — spill your coffee on your lap and it just rolls off the cloth — GE’s interests are much different. For example, ice on wind blades 200 feet in the air can cause drag. And while aircraft engines have engineering solutions to prevent icing at 30,000 feet, they typically come at significant cost in terms of engine efficiency. “But what if we could place special nano-coatings on a wind blade or on aircraft engine parts that could repel water?” says Joseph Vinciquerra, a project leader in the Mechanical Integration & Operability Laboratory at GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY. “And what if these coatings also could repel ice?” As Joseph says in the video below, which is a sequel to GE’s wild “water bounce” video unveiled last year, the result would be a giant improvement in efficiency.

The nanotechnology draws inspiration from lotus plant leaves that have a unique nanotextured wax on the surface that can repel water. The research led to the video of water literally bouncing, which created quite a bit of buzz on YouTube last year. Popular Science’s blog described the footage, seen below, this way: “As the droplets come into contact with the extremely water-resistant surface…, they smash into bits and rearrange Terminator-style, bounce like a basketball and generally retain their perfect-droplet shape.”

As Joseph writes in his blog about GE’s latest work with ice, seen in the first video: “We rely on the aerodynamic forces of the wind acting against the ice to release the ice from the structure. Thus, we have developed a true ‘de-icing’ material that does not require any additional power or heat from the system. While this already offers exciting possibilities for some of the world’s toughest icing challenges, our team continues to refine these materials for a multitude of potential applications, while also working to create new “anti-icing” surfaces (those where ice does not form at all!) based on similar principles.”

You can read Joseph’s full post about superhydrophobic technology, “Creating anti-icing surfaces,” on the Global Research blog. And check back later today for more news from GE Global Research, which is hosting a media forum at at its Niskayuna, NY center on clean tech venture capital investing.