View a slideshow featuring ice-induced damage and Ice Engineering's work." data-pin-do="buttonBookmark">
ICEBOUND: Ice Engineering's technology is designed to use short, high-power jolts of electricity to melt the layer of ice closest to the surface it covers.View a slideshow featuring ice-induced damage and Ice Engineering's work. Image: COURTESY OF WEATHERANSWER.COM
Ever scraped ice from your car windows until your hands were stiff, cold and raw red? Or missed an appointment because it took so long for your window defroster to thaw through your ice-entombed windshield? Or had your lights, cable TV or telephone black out—and stay out for days—because an ice storm downed power lines?
Good news: a group of researchers has developed technology designed to electronically zap ice off surfaces within in seconds. Unlike conventional windshield defrosters that rely on gradual warming to liquefy snow and ice, the IceController—created by Ice Engineering, LLC, in Lebanon, N.H.—delivers a swift (less than a second in some cases) jolt of high-power electricity that immediately melts ice at its interface with an object's surface. Once the bond between the ice and surface is broken, the ice slides away, says Victor Petrenko, Ice Engineering's chief technology officer and a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering, where he invented the "electro-thermal pulse de-icing" technology behind the IceController.
The IceController can be connected to any device or structure that can be coated with ice and uses electrodes or a thin film of stainless steel, copper or aluminum foil placed on the surface to deliver a jolt of electricity whenever it senses ice buildup. The frequency, intensity and duration of the jolts depend upon what the IceController is trying to de-ice—a windshield, airplane wing or bridge cable.
"The objective is to heat an interface in-between the ice and the surface from [the] ambient temperature to ice['s] melting point quickly and with a lot of power," says Petrenko, a former research lab director at the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Solid State Physics and a physics professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. "It happens so quickly that, unlike other de-icing methods, heat is not wasted warming up the [object's] surface or the ice. Once the ice is dislodged, gravity or air-drag force [such as on an airplane wing) do the rest."
Ice Engineering's two biggest installations are on the Uddevalla cable bridge in Sweden (where the technology has been in place since 2005, see slide show) and on the 107,639-square-foot (10,000-square-meter) glass dome of a mall being built in Moscow City. The Swedish government–owned bridge has two pylons taller than 489 feet (149 meters) and 120 cables, each more than 655 feet (200 meters) long and 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) in diameter. Each steel cable is covered by a thin polymer tube (wrapped in stainless steel foil) to prevent rusting. "We apply [an] electric pulse to either end of the cable for about one second," Petrenko says, "and all ice attached to it falls down."