NASA-awarded research aims to curb ice-related power outages
People in ice-prone regions of the United States may be able to keep the lights on during winter thanks to research from a UH mechanical engineering professor.
Hadi Ghasemi won the NASA iTech Cycle 2 award, a year-long initiative to find innovative ideas that may help NASA. Ghasemi created a biologically inspired anti-icing material that mimics wood frogs, which can survive up to 65 percent of their body’s fluids freezing.
The breakthrough can help alleviate ice-related power outages, which account for 10 percent of power transmission outages in the United States, according to Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
“The financial loss for industries is approximated $3 to 5 billion annually, and around 3 million people in the U.S. every winter suffer from power losses by ice storms,” Ghasemi said. “Through this disruptive technology, we intend to address these challenges and improve quality of human life.”
The project was initiated two years ago by three researchers after studying modern-day global issues, said mechanical engineering doctoral candidate Peyman Irajizad, who Ghasemi acknowledged for his work in creating the revolutionary technology.
“One of the problems, especially in the north of America, Canada and Russia, is the ice formation,” Irajizad said. “Five percent of U.S. crashes are because of the icing. That’s a huge number.”
Airplane companies spray an oil before takeoff as an icing prevention method, but if the weather is too rainy, it washes off the oil, Irajizad said.
Graduate research assistant Ali Masoudi took part in studying the anti-scaling properties of the new surface.
Masoudi said being able to overcome the icing challenge is paramount, and the money saved there can be invested in other sectors of energy.
“When you don’t need to consume energy to solve all these problems, I believe that it will help a lot,” Masoudi said.
Irajizad said the power transmission industry will financially benefit from the new material. During winter, icing can cause power poles, towers and transmission lines to collapse, sometimes causing a domino effect.
“Installing a power transmission is around $100 per meter for only the wire, (and) each line has six wires,” Irajizad said. “Consider from west to east of America, it’s a huge market, so finding the solution is really important.”
Airplane and power transmission industries are the main sectors being considered, but the infrastructure industry is in future plans, Ghasemi said.
“If you cannot open the door of your car, that’s not a big deal. You can put some hot water on the car, and you can open the door,” Ghasemi said. “ But if you lose power in a city, that’s a huge problem.”
Ghasemi said he mainly looks forward to the journey initiated by the award.
“We have started a collaboration with NASA, so we are going to test our product in their facilities,” Ghasemi said. “The next stage is that it will pass, and it will really help us to take some burden from the commercialization of this product.”
Both Irajizad and Masoudi agree that working with Ghasemi requires hard work.
“Working with him is not easy because you know he works a lot, and he expects you to work a lot,” Masoudi said. “But at the same time, you know you will enjoy it, because when you have problems you are not left on your own. He is there to help you.”
Ethic and passion for the subject is crucial for the researching team.
“It’s really important for Ghasemi that you enjoy working on that project,” Masoudi said. “If it’s something that you are not interested in, then for sure you won’t make that much progress.”
Irajizad said he realized commercialization is a key part of succeeding in research.
“The most important lesson is the huge difference between the industrial and educational area of research,” Irajizad said. “It should be economic, durable, eco-friendly — it should satisfy all criteria.”
Out of his criteria for a successful project, affordability stood out the most, he said.
“This new material is going to be very cheap,” Irajizad said. “I’m proud of that one.”
Ghasemi was a finalist for The World of Technology Award alongside Elon Musk in 2014. Although he did not win, he has continued to sharpen his ideas to better the worlds of energy and technology.
“It’s exciting because you think, you invent and always are excited about new things,” Ghasemi said. “So that’s what motivates me in research.”