Happy New Year! Now how to deal with the snow?

Happy New Year, all! While the Hogmanay hangovers are beginning to wear off, we approach that time of year when the news headlines are dominated with “disruption”, “travel chaos”, and “winter storms”. I personally love snow, but when it comes to freezing temperatures and delays I definitely understand why some people don’t.

Airport staff possibly have the greatest reason to dislike snow. Aside from general runway clearing, deicing airplanes is an expensive, time-consuming, yet very necessary task. Ice accumulation on the wings of an aircraft increases weight which reduces fuel efficiency, but crucially also adversely affects airflow over the plane resulting in poor lift. Current deicing approaches are to spray airplanes with a heated glycol/water mix to melt existing ice and snow (glycol decreases the freezing temperature of water). A second step is also sometimes to spray the aircraft with a thicker, more concentrated glycol/water mix which prevents further ice forming on the aircraft body. This secondary deicing liquid slides off the plane during take-off so needs to be reapplied for every flight.

Part of our research at Micro & Nano Flows for Engineering is to investigate the onset of ice formation and how we can engineer materials which prevent the formation of ice on their surfaces, with the aim of eliminating the need for manual deicing processes. Applications for these technologies extend to almost all modes of transportation, such as railways, ships and roadways.

Lastly, in defence of winter I offer a photo of Edinburgh in the snow taken from Arthur’s seat during the holidays, as if you needed any more motivation to join us!