Professor develops machine to melt ice
By Tom Huzarsky
Published on Friday, March 31, 2006
Engineering professor Victor Petrenko, in conjunction with the Thayer School of Engineering, has successfully designed and patented an invention that melts ice off surfaces in the amount of time it takes to blink an eye.
Christened as pulse electro-thermal de-icing, or PETD, the pioneering design will affect all applications dealing with very low temperatures, from airplane de-icing to winter skis. Petrenko expects sales from PETD to exceed several billion dollars in its first few years, with the College receiving a percentage of profits that could total hundreds of millions of dollars.
The technology, to be licensed under the brand name of Icenabled, is significantly cheaper and more energy efficient than current de-icing techniques. By passing a small electric current through electrodes embedded within the material to be de-iced, which can range from the clear glass of a windshield to the aluminum wing of a plane, the new technology effectively melts the surface of the ice so that it falls or slides off the material.
Older techniques range from chemical de-icing, which is expensive and detrimental to the environment, to heating, also expensive and burdened by unique engineering drawbacks. The new technology is a significant improvement, Petrenko said.
"We solved an engineering conundrum," he said.
Trained as a semi-conductor researcher, Petrenko came up with the idea for Icenabled eight years ago, with most of his success on the invention coming in the last four years. He approached the problem of de-icing from a new perspective.
"I found the greatest need people had was getting rid of it. I applied basic physic principles to develop an extremely cheap removal system," Petrenko said.
Icenabled also has applications in the sporting goods industry. The technology can be used to increase the friction of ice, leading to greater traction. Used in skis or snowboards, it can create traction up to four times greater than the maximum available from wood. There are also plans to use it in shoes.
The invention won the 2000 Discover Award for Technological Innovation in the aerospace category. Icenabled has attracted a large amount of commercial interest and the College, its main patent owner, has issued eight exclusive licenses so far, with more likely to come.
Each applies to a specific use of the technology, like the de-icing of airplane wings or the improvement of commercial ice makers. Icenabled is scheduled to fly on a Boeing 787 later this year, marking its first application in a real world situation.