Academics & Research News

Cullen engineers create low cost ice-repelling substance

The material, which repells ice under temperatures far below freezing, has both commercial and industrial applications.  | Emily Lincke/ The Cougar

After a year of researching, experimenting, analyzing and documenting, assistant mechanical engineering professor Hadi Ghasemi and NanoTherm Research Group students have overcome a problem plaguing air travel for decades.

This past summer, Ghasemi and his students developed an ice-repelling material at the Cullen College of Engineering dubbed MAGSS—or Magnetic Slippery Surface— which is expected to alleviate industries better than current icephobic technology.

“Research is an unexplored area of knowledge, and you don’t know that you will find the answer,” Ghasemi said. “It’s a risk, sometimes it’s high risk, if you want to find something that people haven’t.”

While finishing his doctorate at the University of Toronto, Ghasemi contemplated the problems ice can create.

“People wanted to go to work, and after that they were coming out and their car was frozen,” Ghasemi said. “Ice had formed on the transmission line insulators and it blocked everything.”

As a faculty member at UH, Ghasemi sought to create an icephobic surface that could out-perform current standards. Ghasemi and his team aimed to create a material that would not just reduce ice formation but prevent it completely.

Preventing ice formation might be a complicated task, but the concept behind Magnetic Slippery Surface is relatively simple. Magnetic fluid is key to the design and what makes MAGSS unique and effective.

“The surface of this magnetic liquid is extremely slippery to water,” said mechanical engineering senior Munib Hasnain, who contributed to research as part of the research group. “There are no other ice-repellent surfaces that use magnets or even magnetic liquids.”

However, theory must be backed by proof. Four students from the NanoTherm Research Group experimented in Ghasemi’s lab at Cullen.

Doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering Peyman Irajizad said that in the group’s experiments, it would take up to five days for ice to form at temperatures near -30 degrees Celsius. He said the process required a lot of patience.

The substance’s significance lies in the numbers. Compared to -25 degrees with current icephobic surfaces, MAGSS resists ice formation until temperatures reach -34 degrees Celsius.

While 100,000 units of energy, measured in Pascal, are needed to remove ice from other materials, MAGSS requires two units.

“Two Pascal means that just by blowing the ice—even tilting the ice by two degrees—we can remove the ice,” Irajizad said.

In Houston MAGSS’s impact might seem irrelevant. However, industries in all climates could benefit from Ghasemi and his team’s progress.

“Sometimes in Houston, for example oil companies, we have icing due to pressure, and it is an inevitable problem,” said Irajizad.

Currently, MAGSS is created in the lab by applying ferrofluids to a surface. However, the team aims to develop a spray that can be easily used by industries and ordinary people alike.

A spray-on version of MAGSS would allow for easy application on power lines, solar panels, generators and airplanes, but Ghasemi and members of his group envision their innovation penetrating many sectors of the market.

Consumers could use the spray for cars or air conditioners to avoid freezing cold in the winter, since MAGSS is low-cost, Ghasemi said.

MAGSS has gained recognition for Ghasemi and his students, but also for UH overall. Ghasemi teaches graduate courses over MAGSS and the science behind it while continuing to think about potential projects.

“This is not the only research that we are doing,” Ghasemi said. “We are looking forward to having more types of stories for the University of Houston.”

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