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April 2021

Mary Goes to Work

Mary got vaccinated...finally. She couldn't be happier. She can go back to work.

In case you missed it, we spent the morning with Mary back in December.1 We managed to get her up and dressed and ready for the day. In the process, we encountered a half dozen surfaces with optimized wetting surfaces - her phone, shower, shampoo, makeup, and clothes, just to name a few.

Today we join Mary for her commute to work. She drives a late model Kia Cadenza, shown above. Among the premium features that make this luxury car safer and more enjoyable to drive are hydrophobic front side windows. These windows are factory coated to repel rain water and are self-cleaning as well. For many years, aftermarket products like Rain-X have been available but only recently are higher-end car models shipping with factory-treated hydrophobic glass.

Mary wouldn't call herself a car detailer but she does like her drive to look nice. So she picked up a product called Shine Armor which was recommended by a friend. It's a spray on / wipe-off ceramic coating that leaves a car's body looking shiny and clean. The product cleans, shines, and protects with what the developers call "nano-ceramic shield".  The end result is a finish that is hydrophobic and self-cleaning. We ordered a bottle to test and we'll get back to you on the results - in a future newsletter.

A few minutes into her commute, Mary pulls into her favorite coffee shop to pick up a cup of Joe. Mary, like most people, give little or no thought to the processes that are required to make coffee. The goal is to extract the compounds from coffee beans. The beans have to be roasted in advance and then ground. Some of the compounds are hydrophilic and thus dissolvable in water but other compounds are hydrophobic and require heat to be extracted. The conventional drip and filter method uses hot water to dissolve the hydrophilic compounds and extract the hydrophobic components. Espresso requires both water and heat also but high pressure is added. A good barista knows the right balance of grind, heat, pressure, and time. Mary gets her coffee and is back on the road.

As Mary continues her commute, she stops at a red light. Little does she know it but the city hired a company to apply icephobic coatings to the traffic light lenses. The problem started a few years ago when the city switched over to LED traffic light bulbs to save money. Not only do LED bulbs use significantly less energy - but they last a lot longer as well. The old incandescent bulbs lasted 12 to 18 months while the new LED replacement bulbs are rated for 10 years or more. So, less energy and less maintenance - what's not to like about that? Well, it turns out that in the winter time when it snows hard, the LED bulbs are so cool that they fail to melt off the snow. The old incandescent bulbs produced enough heat to keep the bulb free of snow and ice. As a result, the LED bulbs have led to obstructed lights during the winter months which, in turn, leads to accidents. The icephobic coating coupled with redesigned shields mitigates this problem.

The light turns green and Mary hits the gas. The front tires on her Kia grip the pavement enthusiastically and the car sprints safely to cruising speed. For years, engineers at Michelin have worked fastidiously to develop tires that balance the three key properties: rolling resistance, wet grip, and abrasion resistance. Lately, hydrophobic nanocellulose is added to car tires to improve performance. In addition, the nanocellulose may be fabricated using a biomass-fractionation process leading to a more green tire with a friendlier impact on the environment.

Mary passes over a recently built bridge. We know that concrete is porous and hydrophilic by nature. However, when the bridge was constructed, the contract called for a flourine resin solution to be sprayed on the finished concrete followed with a coat of flourosilane-treated silica which produces a superhydrophobic surface. The resulting surface is not only icephobic but also water-repellent. And water absorption, which leads to freeze/thaw deterioration, was reduced by nearly 100%. Periodic reapplication of the surface treatment every few years can more than double the life of the bridge. Mary had no idea.

As Mary pulls into the parking lot at work, the rain begins to fall heavy. Fortunately, she has a Repel Umbrella in the glove compartment. The Repel Umbrella is treated with a Teflon coating that makes it hydrophobic and non-wetting. In fact, there is no need to leave it to dry when entering a building. Simply shake it off and fold it up.

Imagine a world where umbrellas don't wet, concrete is icephobic and non-absorptive, tires are made from hydrophobic additives, LED traffic lights repel snow, coffee production maximizes the hydrophilic and hydrophobic components of the coffee bean, and cars are totally water-repellant and self-cleaning. In reality, as this dramatized report of Mary's commute to work illustrates, we're actually approaching that reality.

1 In case you missed our December 2020 Newsletter, you can read it here.
2 More details on Zwitter wettable surfaces in this paper.

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Carl Clegg
Director of Sales
Phone 973-448-0305
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