deicing plane

Longer lasting de-icer cuts environmental impact of airports in winter

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scientists have developed a longer-lasting alternative to conventional de-icers that could help to reduce their environmental impact when used in airports.

When temperatures drop below zero, aircraft need to be doused with thousands of litres of de-icing fluids to keep them functioning. But when the plane takes off, most of the liquid has flowed off and ends up polluting freshwater streams and lakes.

University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) researchers have developed an extensive family of more than 80 anti-freezing coatings, which can be easily applied to aluminium, steel, copper, glass, plastic or any industrial surface without preconditioning or expensive surface treatments.

“We questioned the lifetime of the cryoprotectants and looked at new ways to increase their effectivity,” said researcher Sushant Anand. “Glycols dissolve very fast in the water and get washed away before the plane takes off, and it’s a serious problem that costs hundreds of millions of dollars—most of which literally ends up in the drain.

“We thought, why not improve such chemicals themselves, and make alternatives that can last longer while being more biofriendly. And that is what we ended up doing.”

The new coatings have been designed to delay formation of frost for an extended period of time and cause any ice formed on a surface to easily shed off in a gentle breeze.

The anti-freezing gels are also transparent, which is critical for applications like traffic signals, runway lights that assist pilots during landings, automotive windshields or building windows.

“Since our anti-icing sprays are bio-friendly and anti-bacterial, we even think there is a potential to use them in agriculture to prevent crops from being ruined by severe frost,” Anand said. “But that is a pipe dream, and we need to do more studies to see if there will be any long-term adverse effect on the plants.”

“There is great potential in these materials for many applications, and I think the day when commercial versions of our materials come out just got closer.”

The aviation sector has been slowly clawing its way back from the historic lows experienced in recent years resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, the sector praised the UK’s decision to scrap Covid restrictions at airports.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles