Israeli College Finds Solution To Icing On Airplanes By Analyzing Flower

04/14/2011 14:22


Researches from Shenkar School for Design in Tel Aviv, Israel, claim they have succeeded in solving a problem that has been preoccupying airlines for years and has even caused aircraft accidents: accumulation of ice on airplanes. And it’s all from analyzing the lotus flower.

In countries where temperatures drop below 0 degrees Celsius in the winter, the problem begins on the ground. And since the temperatures continue to drop gradually as the aircraft ascends – a 2 degrees drop per 1,000 feet – ice accumulation is a daily nuisance for all airlines.

The common methods for dealing with the phenomenon are not always effective: when on the ground, one measure is to spray the airplanes with chemicals that prevent accumulation of ice, but for no more than half an hour. When the plane is in the air melting the the ice is done mechanically or with hot air.

Aviation expert Neri Yarkoni explains that using hot air can be problematic, however, since it requires a high amount of fuel and can also be dangerous: “the hot air needs to go a long way from the engine. If there’s a crack in the plane and hot air bursts out, that is potentially very dangerous.” According to Yarkoni these measures are also heavy financial burdens.

While many other research groups around the world have tried to find a solution to the problem, the plastic engineering department at Shenkar School for design might have beat them all to it. A new research led by the head of department, Professor Hana Dudiuk, along with Dr. Ana Dotan and Dr. Fabian Rios, offers an innovative solution to the problem: manufacturing surfaces which reduce the accumulation of ice with nanometer size structures.

The development, which is already patented by Shenkar, is based on materials with unique nanometer structures inspired by the lotus flower. “The lotus flower is in the water all the time, but always remains clean, spotless and without mud”, says Dudiuk. “Twenty years ago the flower was examined microscopically and it was discovered that its surface is made of tiny hills and mountains in nanometer or micrometer sizes. The water doesn’t reach the infrastructure but move from particle to particle and so the lotus remains clean.”

Like many other technologies, the initial research was a result of needs within the military. “They approached me and asked for an idea to treat surfaces and reduce ice from windows,” remembers Professor Dudiuk. At the time, Dr. Rios was working on developing a hydrophobic surface, and Dudiuk offered to use this surface to prevent ice accumulation.

Dudiuk and her peers developed a number of samples and sent them to a lab in Quebec, which specializes in simulations of ice accumulations. The results were impressive, she says: “the ultra-hydrophobic treatment was successful in reducing ice sticking to the metals’ infrastructure 18 to 20 times more.” According to Dudiuk, the patent is could also be applied to vehicles that get ice accumulation during cold winter days.

However, Shenkar is not yet at the end of its research road as their solution is still only temporary; it doesn’t last long, especially in flight conditions. Shenkar does not have the funds to further the research of nanometer surfaces, but has found investment in a country familiar with cold winters.

About two weeks ago Governor of Massachusetts, U.S., Deval Patrick, visited Israel and announced that his state will allocate funding for a cooperation between Shenkar and the Center of Excellence in Nanotechnology Implementation of Massachusetts University in Lowell, with the view to commercialize the development and make it available to airlines. “The investment in developing the materials is expected to cost a few thousand dollars,” explains Professor Shmuel Kenig, head of the Engineering Faculty in Shenkar, “however in the future it could will change the world of aviation.”


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