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Dr Sree Hari Perumanath Dharmapalan
University of Warwick
Early Career Fellowship

Development of molEcular-Fidelity RObust Simulations of frosT formation – DEFROST

During this multidisciplinary project, Sree Hari will examine the physics that leads to the formation of frost on various surfaces in winter and develop a computational tool to design surfaces that do not like frost

Graphic illustrating from molecular simulations shows that ice nucleates at the bottom and grows upward
Did you know when droplets freeze, they lose their roundness and always form a tiny cone on the top? The pictures on the top left and right sides in the figure are from an ‘experiment’ done at home. (Other) Pictures from molecular simulations show that ice nucleates at the bottom and grows upward.

By realising the long-term adverse effects of climate change, more and more countries are pledging to use environmentally-friendly options for transportation, power generation and infrastructure development. The UK has made substantial changes in its energy policy and is preparing to lead this global ‘green revolution’ by committing to ban the sales of gasoline-based cars and generate a third of British electricity by offshore wind power by 2030 and introduce all-electric aircraft in the civil aerospace by 2050. However, during winter in cold countries like the UK, frost formation on fully-electric vehicles that do not have fuel-burnt excess heat for de-icing their surface can lead to worsened consumption of economic resources: energy and time. Ice accretion on wind turbine blades can lead to performance degradation and structural failure and result in power outages. Such adverse effects of frost formation on engineering surfaces hinder the success of green initiatives.

A cost-effective solution to alleviate the consequences of extreme cold weather on transportation and wind power industries is to use ‘icephobic’ surfaces/coatings that remain ice-free even at sub-zero temperatures. However, tailoring icephobic surfaces for bespoke applications is challenging and requires minimising the number of nanometre-sized irregularities on surfaces called ‘active sites’, where ice can nucleate easily and culminate in its complete frost coverage. Additionally, recent research has shown that larger micro/millimetre-sized surface textures also influence frost formation on surfaces. This ‘multiscale’ nature of frost formation and the importance of developing application-specific icephobic surfaces demands a novel design-and-analysis computational tool in industries that can simultaneously handle various physics at nano-to-macro scales.

In this Fellowship, my research will focus on investigating the factors that lead to frost formation on surfaces and coding that physics into a computational framework that is easily accessible to non-experts. This innovative multiscale tool named DEFROST will combine the accuracy of molecular simulations (which are suitable for studying nanoscale systems) and the efficiency of continuum models (which are suitable for studying macroscale systems). DEFROST will enable design-for-manufacture of novel icephobic surfaces by estimating their anti-icing performance without having to fabricate them, saving huge economic resources in industries.

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