De-icing of aircraft

De-Icing Planes Using Sunlight – Can It Be Done?

Jennifer Weitbrecht
14.12.2018
4 minutes

The winter season brings ice and snow, making the use of de-icing chemicals or heating systems essential. After all, ice on an airplane’s wings, propellers or tail assembly can have catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, the methods currently in use aren’t exactly environmentally friendly.

We explained the traditional aircraft de-icing method in this article. There is however, a new approach which would make for a more ecologically sound process.

Current research

A surprisingly simple and environmentally friendly de-icing method is currently being tested in the USA. Carried out by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, the research is sponsored by Alstom , as well as by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek).

Initial testing has already been carried out, both in the lab and in the field. The goal is to use the resulting method to de-ice not only aircraft, but also other installations, including wind turbines and above-ground power lines.

Special Material Combination Facilitates De-Icing Using Sunlight

Engineer Kripa Varanasi’s research team are currently working on applying a special combination of materials to aircraft surfaces to prevent them icing over in the first place. The team discovered that all that is needed is sufficient heat to melt the ice immediately on the surface of the aircraft, where the ice adheres to the plane. Melting this “boundary layer” of ice makes the aircraft’s surface slippery, so the ice will just slide off. This observation was the basis for the development of a new triple-layered material.

The Composition of the Three Layers

The compound comprises a sunlight absorber, a particularly thin aluminium layer to distribute the warmth, and a base layer of insulation foam. Interestingly, the three layers are not high-tech materials. Instead, they are cheap, easily available substances which are fused together and applied to the surface to be protected. According to MIT’s press release, it should even be possible to spray the material on in layers.

How the Process Works

This innovation enables the sun’s rays to be collected, converted to heat, and then distributed over the surrounding area. According to a statement issued by the research institute, the procedure requires no additional measures and no additional power and can even be carried out at night using artificial light.

Titelbild Pixabay – survivor

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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