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NeverWet: Nanotechnology for Your Airplane

By Max Trescott

November 23, 2011 – How many different products would you need to use on your aircraft if you wanted it to repel water, prevent icing, stop corrosion, and make the aircraft self-cleaning? Soon, the answer could be just one: NeverWet.

But don't rush to the store yet; retail spray-can products aren't expected to be available until mid-2012. In the meantime, you can see the product demonstrated in videos below of chocolate syrup leaping off of shoes and ice sliding from a metal surface.

These seemingly magic coatings are the result of three years of work by a dozen scientists working for Ross Nanotechnology, a relatively new division of the 50-year-old Ross Technology Corporation, located near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Ross Technology, which sells steel products including rack systems, was looking for a way to reduce corrosion on its products. When it couldn’t find a suitable coating, Ross decided to invent its own and the Nanotechnology division was formed. The resulting product, NeverWet, is a silicon-based coating with seemingly endless consumer and industrial applications.

The degree to which a surface resists water can be measured by the contact angle that a bead of water forms with the surface. At one extreme, hydrophilic surfaces like metal have a high surface energy and a low contact angle; water spreads across it without forming droplets. At the other extreme, a perfectly superhydrophobic surface causes water to bead into a sphere with a 180-degree contact angle. A freshly waxed car and Teflon have contact angles of 90 degrees and 95 degrees respectively. By contrast, Ross claims NeverWet has a contact angle that ranges from 160 degrees to 175 degrees.

Corrosion is created by water contact with any ferrous surface. But a superhydrophobic surface keeps an air barrier between the surface and water, so corrosion doesn’t occur.

When a NeverWet coating is applied to the inside of tubing, liquid travels through it faster. That’s because instead of rubbing against the tubing, the fluid rubs against air. Thus liquids move faster and less energy is required to pump them.

Amusingly, the company’s first product was the Clear-n-Clean plunger for toilet bowls. Because of its NeverWet coating, the plunger remains dry, greatly reducing any transfer of water or bacteria from the toilet bowl.

Getting back to the aviation world, imagine a clear spray that could be applied to aircraft wings to provide anti-icing capability and to simplify cleaning of bugs and dirt. Ross claims that NeverWet lasts for “thousands of rubs,” meaning that it won’t come off quickly in the rain or when you wipe the plane.

Seaplane enthusiasts could potentially benefit by applying a NeverWet-based coating or paint to their aircraft’s hull or floats. Adhesion to the water is a large source of drag for seaplanes, so the coatings could presumably reduce takeoff runs along the water.

The possibilities for using NeverWet seem endless, though only time will tell which applications of this new technology will prove to be successful.

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