Thursday, July 21, 2016

Liquiglide Could Revolutionize the Marine Industry

2017 update - A new, more durable spray on coating has been developed by the University of Michigan

Sometimes, I am amazed by my own lack of imagination. I tend to dismiss some scientific developments as only mildly relevant to realy world problems, only to later realize their utility and potential impact. Take for example Liquiglide.  Liquiglide is a coating that can be put on just about anything to make reduce surface adhesion.  Which is to say it makes surfaces super slippery. A video demonstrating it's properties went viral in 2012 and is pretty much the picture that is worth a thousand words.

This product popped on my radar with their impressive demonstration of how easily ketchup flows out of the bottle coated in the material.

Pretty cool eh?  It's not the only impressive demonstration, but I think it's the most relatable to our everyday experiences. The interesting thing is that this process was not originally developed to be a solution to industrial packaging. I think the company web page best summarizes how it came to be.

"LiquiGlide’s technology was developed in the Varanasi Research Group laboratory at MIT. Dave Smith was a PhD student in Professor Kripa Varanasi’s lab, trying to solve the problem of methane hydrate build-ups in oil and gas pipelines by using liquid-impregnated, slippery surfaces. Seeing some success in this area, they began to think of other applications, including consumer goods and packaging applications.

In 2012, Dave created the iconic glass ketchup video, which went viral, triggering thousands of inquiries from Consumer packaged goods companies wanting to use LiquiGlide’s technology. Shortly following, Dave and Kripa founded LiquiGlide Inc., in the fall of 2012."

While the ketchup demonstration made it clear the advantages such a coating could have on condiment dispensing, what was not quite so intuitive at the time, at least to me, was the potential application this sort of material could have on the marine industry.

When you think about it, the application of this coating to marine systems is practically limitless. Liquiglide is already applying this to the hull of ships in an effort to prevent barnacles and generally keep hulls clean. This would obviously improve efficiency simply be reducing drag, but I've been curious as to what this would do for the overall skin friction of any hull moving through liquid. Boaters spend countless hours waxing the bottoms of their boats to eek out an extra mile or two. Now along comes Liquilide to create a permanent low adhesion hull surface.

For the marine industry however, there are questions. A quick demonstration of the coating being applied by a standard industrial paint spraying process answers the question of how it can be applied, but what is not known is how long the coating will last.  Does it need to be periodically re-applied? Does the coating help reduce turbulent flow over the hull, or more to the point, does it promote laminar flow? What materials can it be applied too?  What sort of costs are involved when applying the coating to something as large as the hull of a ship? Liquiglide is also touted as a protective layer that reduces corrosion.  One would wonder if it would be effective as an anti-fouling solution for fresh water lakes, with the added advantage of being a clear coat.

It seems to be applied by using standard spray on tools, so I would be very interested to see if it could simply be sprayed on something like my Perception Carolina kayak, constructed from solid ABS plastic.  I would also be interested in what effect the coating would have on water pump strategies like an impeller or ducted prop.  It would be fun to play with and find out.