How Do You Fancy A Permanently Frost-Free Windscreen?

29/01/2016

How Do You Fancy A Permanently Frost-Free Windscreen?

How Do You Fancy A Permanently Frost-Free Windscreen?

We’re not kidding! A new advanced coating, inspired by the shell of a tiny beetle which lives in one of the world’s hottest places, has been developed by a team of American researchers.

One of the main uses being suggested for it is to make a substance to be used to coat vehicles’ windscreens to stop tiny drops of moisture turning into frost - the bane of many drivers around this time of year.

The discovery, which has got the tech world very excited and is being widely reported, including by TheEngineer.co.uk, has been made by boffins at Virginia Tech.

A professor who has been involved in the research says the team has been inspired by the Namib Desert beetle. Its outer shell is water-repellant, but it also has tiny bumps which collect water - which is essential for its survival in one of the driest places in the world. This water flows down the waterproof channels in the creepy-crawly’s shell and from there into its mouth to stop it getting dehydrated in the arid atmosphere.

 

In The Middle Of A Chain Reaction…

Ice is formed by a chain reaction started by the freezing of a single dew drop. The ice then forms by creating ‘bridges’ between other droplets and spreading across the affected surface.

However, the key to halting the spread of frost is how heavily concentrated these droplets are. if they are spaced far enough apart - or can be prevented altogether from sticking to a surface - the spread of frost can be slowed down, or it can even be stopped from forming in the first place.

The most surprising finding was probably that frost could be stopped from forming on highly localised patches of a surface. Ultimately, when it comes to be applied to glass surfaces on a car, this means it might be possible to vary the thickness of the coating so that it works best to keep anything from a wing mirror to a whole windscreen clear.

This discovery is expected to have a wide range of potential uses, such as on wind turbines and aircraft wings. In both these cases, ice can immobilise them, so operators have to spend loads of money on heaters and the like in an effort to stop the ice from forming in the first place.

 

Left High And Dry…

“We made a single dry zone around a piece of ice,” explained Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, and one of the big brains involved in the research.

Explaining that frost grows easiest when it has lots of closely-spaced dots of water to spread between, he added: “When the dots are spaced far enough apart and one of the drops freezes into ice, the ice is no longer able to spread frost to the neighboring drops because they are too far away. Instead, the drops actually evaporate completely, creating a dry zone around the ice.”

Then, with nothing left for it to grip on to, this means the dreaded ‘Jack Frost’ can’t get a foothold on the kinds of solid surfaces where he’s usually in his element.



But Will We Have To Wait Until Hell Freezes Over?

That’s a question no one can answer just yet! Though, when you consider that the surface on which this frost-repellant action was first seen was just 1cm wide - that’s smaller than the width of a 1p piece! - it’s fair to say that one of the scientists’ most urgent next steps is to scale up the surfaces onto which they apply this coating.

However, given the speed at which scientific developments take place these days - and, most importantly, the commercial benefits which could prospectively be seen from an innovation like this - the men and women in white coats who made this initial discovery will want to move pretty quickly on to bigger things, simply because that’s where the possibility of making big bucks with their discovery lies.

Do you have any unusual but effective ways of clearing the frost off your car’s windows - or for stopping it from attacking in the first place? Share them with us on Facebook.