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Fish antifreeze inspires ice-proof paint

News Team



Publicat Duminică, 5 August 2007, ora 12:11

      Aeroplanes of the future could be protected from the cold by an anti-freeze paint that takes its inspiration from the Arctic fish proteins.
     
      The protein-based coatings would prevent ice from forming on the wings of aircraft, a process that increases drag, and can create dangerous turbulence during take off and landing.
     
      Antifreeze proteins found in plants, fish and insects, have already been synthesised in the lab, and used to prevent foods from being damaged by icing up in the refrigerator.
     
      Ingo Grunwald, and colleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research in Bremen, Germany, have now succeeded in incorporate such proteins into a coating that could have a range of applications in technology and engineering.
     
      For example, in addition to protecting aircraft, the paint could be used to prevent ice from dragging down power cables. It could even prevent freezers from icing up so that they need defrosting.
      Protein bonds
     
      Ice crystals develop from a tiny "seed" of ice that grows bigger as more water molecules latch onto its surface.
     
      A fish called the Winter Flounder has proteins that inhibit this growth by bonding with the smaller ice crystals, and making it harder for more water molecules attach. The proteins "have special structures which interact with the ice like a lock and key", says Grunwald.
     
      The main difficulty of making a coating containing the protein molecules is getting them to bond with particles of paint, while still allowing them enough freedom to interact with the seeds of ice crystals.
     
      Grunwald's team decided to use another organic molecule (not for commercial reasons) as a link between the protein molecules and paint particles, allowing the proteins move freedom to move.
      Carbon replacement
     
      The coating has been tested inside chambers filled with cold humid air, and the results have been promising. So far, however, the paint has only been applied to surfaces measuring one centimetre square. Grunwald admits it must be improved – made to cover a surface more evenly and produced in larger quantities – before it could be applied to an aircraft wing.
     
      "We'll need to be able to produce enough coating for an area the size of a football pitch," says Grunwald.
     
      They also plan to investigate whether carbon polymers could replace the proteins. Such a coating could last longer because the polymers would not degrade, and could withstand more harsh conditions.
     
      Colin Humphreys, a materials scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK, also wonders whether the new coating would be smooth enough to be applied to aircraft. "If the coating has a strange surface structure, it could actually cause turbulence and reduce lift."

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