Engineers set out to reduce flight delays with low-energy defrosting technique

Aeroflot Airbus A330 200 De Icing Pereslavtsev 750x500
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by Jessica Tabinor on


  • During harsh winters, a build-up of ice on aircraft wings can cause havoc in busy airports across the world.

  • The current de-icing techniques use a lot of energy and waste a great deal of time - the new system combats this.

  • Engineers have adopted the rationale from the natural movement of glaciers: if the ice directly in contact with the surface is melted, the rest of the ice will simply slide off.

During harsh winters, a build-up of ice on aircraft wings can cause havoc in busy airports across the world. Currently, aircraft engineers use defrosting systems that melt all off the ice from the top layer down which can use a great deal of energy and waste a lot of time!

So, in an effort to combat this issue US and Japanese engineers have developed a unique system to remove ice and frost from surfaces using only a fraction of the energy and time of the current morson jobs

Engineers based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Kyushu University in Japan have adopted the rationale from the natural movement of glaciers: if the ice directly in contact with the surface is melted, the rest of the ice will simply slide off.

Nenad Miljkovic of UIUC discussed the disadvantages of the conventional de-icing system and said:

“The systems must be shut down, the working fluid is heated up, then it needs to be cooled down again. This eats up a lot of energy when you think of the yearly operational costs of running intermittent defrosting cycles.”

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Instead, the engineering team proposes delivering a pulse of very high current to the interface between the substrate – for example, an aeroplane wing and the ice. This is introduced using a coating of indium tin oxide (ITO) on the substrate surface. ITO is a transparent conducting material most familiar from its use as an electrode on the touch-sensitive screens of electronic devices. The rest is up to gravity.

The next stage for the group is to study the behaviour of ice on larger, more complex shaped surfaces such as those encountered on aircraft.

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