ROCHESTER, N.Y.—A technique used to de-ice aerospace and marine applications could someday help automobiles safely maneuver across ice on pavement.
Dr. Victor Petrenko, an ice physicist and engineering professor at Dartmouth College, invented an ice adhesion modification system for land-based vehicles. In November, Torvec Inc., a Rochester, N.Y.-based developer of advanced automotive technologies, was awarded patent rights for the system.
The firm plans to use the patent to develop a windshield de-icer, along with a system that would instantly bond a tire to ice, allowing tires the same traction on ice as on dry pavement. In January 2000, B.F. Goodrich Co., an aerospace product manufacturer, acquired the license for the technology to de-ice airplanes and marine applications.
Jim Gleasman, director at Torvec, said the company is excited about the technological possibilities.
"It's enormous when you stop and think about how many problems are created by ice," he said. "This is a real breakthrough in that sense."
Costs for the windshield de-icer and the ice traction system aren't yet known, Mr. Gleasman said.
Torvec hopes to have the ice repellant for windshields available for vehicles soon, he said. It could be on cars in Europe as soon as next year.
The windshield de-icer works by sending a low voltage electric current across the glass surface which transforms ice directly into hydrogen and oxygen gases through the process of electrolysis.
"It literally blows the ice right off the surface," Mr. Gleasman said.
The de-icer is connected to the vehicle's thermostat. When it nears freezing, the de-icer begins working. It also works on side windows, door locks and trunk locks, too. Mr. Gleasman said the entire trailer of a semi would benefit from this as well.
In the case of tires, the system works by reversing the polarity of the electrical device to cause the tire to stick to the ice. When the device is applied to a tire and the tire is conductive, a microscopic level of ice forms on the rubber tread, which makes it instantly bond to ice on the road, Mr. Gleasman said.
"It's just like when your fingers stick to the ice tray or like children in the school yard who stick their tongues on the bar," he said. "It instantly adheres and it gives 20 times more traction on ice than there otherwise would be."
Mr. Gleasman said a tire's traction on ice is about 10 percent of that which it would get on dry pavement. So when the friction is increased 20 times, it gives more traction on ice than on pavement.
Tire makers at first showed little interest in the invention, Mr. Gleasman said. But a demonstration for them conducted by Torvec in a labratory may have changed that.
"Some of the scientists at a couple of the tire companies absolutely rejected any concept of this and said it was witchcraft or black magic," he said. "But after seeing the demonstrations, they've changed their minds.
"They're a little bit shocked."
Now, Torvec is negotiating the best licensing deals for the patent, Mr. Gleasman said.