Winter Travel Protection: Innovating Icephobic Materials to Improve Driver Safety

Materials Studio

icephobic materials
Icy, snowy roads are both dangerous and expensive to clean. Icephobic materials make travel safer, while also minimizing cleanup expenses.
Image source: Pixabay.com

In many parts of the U.S., winter weather brings snow and though students might happily think “day off” with its onset, many others see the powdery material in a less positive light. State and local agencies spend over $2.3 billion dollars on “snow and ice control operations”1 because snow-related weather events account for approximately 22 percent of vehicle crashes and 19 percent of fatalities.2 Part of the solution to the dangerous conditions caused by snow and ice has been to salt roads, which researchers believe have reduced crashes by 88 percent. However, salted roads cause damage to cars3, which in turn might increase drivers’ vulnerabilities to accidents. Alternatives to salt could decrease the danger of wintery conditions.

Innovations Can Lead to Effective Icephobic Materials

One solution to the problem of icy, snow-filled roads is to create icephobic materials to use on road surfaces. According to Vahid Hejazi and his colleagues in a scientific report published in Nature, icephobic surfaces can be achieved in three ways.4 First, there should be low adhesion forces between the ice and solid surface. Second, the surface should prevent ice formation, and third, small droplets of ice or snow should be repelled at temperatures below the freezing point. Common among all is the concept that innovations in icephobic materials can prevent the freezing of condensed water or incoming water on road surfaces, and if ice does form, weak adhesive forces should render it easily removed. In developing more long-lasting alternatives to salting, how can researchers in materials science identify the right materials needed?

Materials Science Made Easier with Appropriate Technology

Luckily, many of the properties of icephobic surfaces can be modeled using basic principles of physics. The application of these physics equations can then determine the mechanical forces experienced by a water drop on a specific type of surface as well as the adhesion forces between that drop and surfaces inspired by materials science. These values can then be used to predict which materials would be best suited for use on icephobic surfaces. Advanced software uses computational methodologies relevant to materials science to uncover how items will likely interact.

Appropriate software can be particularly useful in the hunt for novel icephobic surfaces because it enables researchers in materials science to create reusable modeling and simulation protocols that could test a variety of icephobic materials. Strong predictive capabilities improve the efficiency of discovering new products. Additionally, results recorded from experiments can be saved and analyzed later to enable researchers to run multiple samples quickly. This allows experiments to be standardized (running samples at once decreases the variabilities inherent to conducting an experiment at a different times when conditions might vary), without compromising the reliability of results.

A visualization component also provides researchers the added benefit of visually studying models of different surfaces and manipulating these surfaces to uncover how icephobic properties might increase or how snow might interact with these surfaces at different angles and in different conditions. Finally, the storage of this data in one location supports collaboration efforts between researchers in materials science who can share their knowledge and suggest modifications of certain equations that predict, for example, the adhesion forces between material surfaces and ice. This ensures that computation science methodologies are consistent across an organization and also enables organizations to consider, which computational algorithms/equations are best representative of what occurs in real-life.

Ultimately, using materials science to uncover new icephobic surfaces could reduce the costs of winter cleanups and the damage done to drivers’ vehicles. Moreover, the creation of permanently icephobic roads could significantly increase travel safety, while also increasing efficiency by reducing the numbers of individuals who miss work due to poor road conditions. To determine how your product could be improved with the power of predictive modeling and visualization, features offered by BIOVIA Materials Studio, please contact us for more information.

  1. “Road Salt: Winter’s $2.3 Billion Game Changer,” February 19, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/road-salt-winters-2-3-billion-game-changer-n308416
  2. “How Do Weather Events Impact Roads,” December 10, 2015, http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm
  3. “Hidden Hazards of Road Salt: Car Corrosion Can Take a Tool,” February 5, 2014, http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/winter-road-salt-necessary-but/22699332
  4. “From superhydrophobicity to icephobicity: forces and interaction analysis,” July 12, 2013, http://www.nature.com/articles/srep02194

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