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Ice Sensors developed to detect build-up on Aeroplane Wings

Researchers have developed a new ice sensor that can detect ice accumulation in real-time. They boost airline safety and efficiency using these sensors.

The sensors should also be able to detect when ice has melted off the wing during de-icing. Consequently, it alerts the staff members if the job hasn’t been carried out sufficiently.

Hence, the team from UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering aimed to develop a sensor. This sensor could detect the precise moment when ice begins to form on a surface. Due to their high sensitivity, low power, ease of fabrication and planar profile, the team chose to use microwave resonators for ice sensors.

The sensitivity of the sensors means the detection occurs in real time. This could make both ground and in-flight de-icing faster, cheaper and much more efficient.

Ice buildup on the wings of aircraft can quickly cause problems if not detected early enough. Researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s School of Engineering have developed a sensor. This ice sensor can detect the precise moment when ice begins forming on a surface. This capability could prevent tragedies linked to icy airplane wings.

Materials for ice sensors

Then, after studying several approaches, the researchers chose to use microwave resonators. They have high sensitivity, low power, ease of fabrication and planar profile.

Simple traces of metal deposited onto a plastic are the Planar microwave resonator sensors. Yet, they are mechanically robust, sensitive and easy to fabricate. Therefore, they are suitable for the use in sensors.

The pair, along with graduate students Benjamin Wiltshire and Kiana Mirshahidi, published research findings in sensors and Actuators B: Chemical. However, the research is reportedly the first on using microwave resonators to detect frost or ice accumulation. The reverse is also possible, and the sensors can detect when ice is melted away during de-icing. The sensor have ability to detect ice buildup in real time. This could make both ground and in-flight de-icing faster, cheaper, and much more efficient.

De-icing the ice

De-icing fluids typically consist of a glycol-water solution containing a dye and agents to protect the metal surface. They use a large variety of glycols. They use thickeners to help the deicing agent stick to the airplane body. However, Ethylene glycol (EG) fluids are still in use for aircraft de-icing in some parts of the world. It has a lower operational use temperature (LOUT) than PG. However, PG is common because it is less toxic than ethylene glycol.

Chemical de-icers

All chemical de-icers share a common working mechanism. They chemically prevent water molecules from binding above a certain temperature that depends on the concentration. This temperature is below 0 °C, the freezing point of pure water. Sometimes, there is an exothermicdissolution reaction that allows for an even stronger melting power. 

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