A powerful new water repellent may be able to keep water off military uniforms and help ships reduce drag in the water.
The material recreates the superhydrophobic surface found in nature on the lotus plant, said John Simpson, senior research scientist at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. At a recent industry conference, he showed videos of lab tests that depict water bouncing right off surfaces coated with the patented material.
The repellent essentially consists of nanostructured sand particles chemically changed to appear like Teflon. Water never really touches the superhydrophic surface. Instead, it hits a layer of air above it, Simpson explained.
The Oak Ridge lab has developed five different types of coatings, including three transparent sprays. The potential market is wide open.
It could protect optical assets such as camera lenses and periscopes. It could keep electronics circuits from shorting out. It could be used on military uniforms. The material contains thermal properties that may even be able to keep divers warm under water, Simpson said. The coating could be used to treat roads, sidewalks or racetracks, he added.
If applied to boat hulls, it helps reduce drag.
“The water just jumps out of the way,” Simpson said. However, if a vessel currently travels faster than about 15 knots, the layer of air between the boat and water could be blown right off. The technology has to be experimented with to get the best results, he said.
“It’s not as simple as you think,” he said.