A team led by a University of Illinois professor is investigating new ways to de-ice surfaces in seconds, a method that could potentially mean fewer delays at the airport during the winter.

As many winter air travelers know, when ice forms on a plane, it is too dangerous to fly and removing it can take more time than passengers would like.

Now researchers have discovered a method of de-icing surfaces in seconds, and they hope it will eventually be used for aircraft, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and even utility line applications.

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A U.S. and Japanese team of researchers led by Nenad Miljkovic, professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois, successfully de-iced a large piece of vertical glass by coating it with a film of indium tin oxide, which is conductive, and then applying a strong surge of current. The result is that rather than melting the ice, applying heat to the interface separated the ice from the glass.

“If you think about it, you don't want to melt all of the ice, mainly because of the very energy-intensive process,” Miljkovic said. “You really only want to melt the interface which is between the ice and the surface.”

Miljkovic said that so far researchers have only worked on flat surfaces, and they want to investigate how to make the process work on curved and 3-D surfaces, such as aircraft parts and power lines.

“Typically, in ice storms and cold weather, you get power lines that are down,” he said. “Power lines are interesting because they actually carry current. So could we think of a way to engineer this coating in such a way as to apply it to power lines so that an ice storm is not going to put down the entire infrastructure?”

While this method uses a high amount of energy during the initial surge, its overall performance makes it much more energy-efficient than heating surfaces and melting ice. The research was published in Applied Physics Letters.

(Copyright WBGZ Radio / www.AltonDailyNews.com)