Water Repelling Metals Keep Engines and Turbines Dry and Ice Free
Researchers at GE have developed a way to treat metals so that they repel water. The extreme water-repelling property, called superhydrophobicity means that water forms drops on the surface instead of spreading and sticking to it.
Other superhydrophobic materials have been demonstrated, but most have used some kind of plastic. Superhydrophobic metals open up many new applications, says Jeffrey Youngblood, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue University.
“Metallic structures are more robust and can survive in harsher environments, allowing for their use in applications where plastic is infeasible, [such as in] planes, trains, automobiles, heavy machinery, and engines,” Youngblood says.
GE has some ideas about how to use the materials. One possibility is in de-icing aircrafts. Ice buildup on engines can be catastrophic. Right now, aircraft use heat to prevent ice, which requires power. De-icing on the ground, meanwhile, is done with de-icing fluids, which contain toxic chemicals. “It would be very desirable if we could just be able to have a material on which ice didn’t stick,” says Margaret Blohm, advanced technology leader for the nanotechnology program at GE’s Global Research Center.
Another application for the metals could be in gas and steam turbines. The superhydrophobic metals could reduce the buildup of moisture and contaminants on the turbines, increasing their efficiency and requiring fewer shutdowns for maintenance.