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Archive for Sunday, January 21, 2007

Toplikar: Chip off the cold block

Prof’s powerful technology could make scraper obsolete

January 21, 2007

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Where is it?

I was cold, sleepy and hunting around in Julie's car to find something to clean the thick ice off her windshield.

I grabbed one of her many music CD cases and used it to scrape a porthole on the driver's side, then headed out onto the snowy and icy roads last weekend.

"I just use the heater," my scraperless daughter told me later.

I don't blame her - the winter had been pretty nice up until last week.

But now it's time to get serious about stocking up a car with the basics for winter driving - and to see what new tech gizmos might be out there to clean a windshield.

Breakthrough

If Victor Petrenko gets his way, all of us will be able to forget about scraping frost, ice or snow from our windshields in a few years. Petrenko, a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., has invented a way to use a short burst of electricity to make ice drop off a specially treated vertical surface.

The ice releases its frosty grip with a simple push of a button. (See video.)

"We can clean any glass, including automotive glass, in about one second with the power available in the usual passenger car and, of course, on trucks," Petrenko told me, speaking in his thick Russian accent. "This is a real breakthrough."

The reason it can't be done now with electricity is because conventional methods convert electricity to heat. But those heaters or ice melters take up too much electric power, he said.

The technology he came up with - what he calls the "pulse electro-thermal de-icer" - already has been installed on a bridge in Sweden. And the Goodrich Corp. has licensed the technology to use in aerospace applications.

His company, Ice Engineering LLC (IceEngineering.com) is working to commercialize his de-icing technology so that it can be used on airplanes and cars and in refrigeration, winter sports and other fields.

The license for automotive applications is held by a company that isn't moving on it yet, and Petrenko is working to get it for use by his own company.

If he does, he hopes to build a full-scale prototype for automotive glass within a year and get it to market in between two to six years - if the automakers will move on it.

Meanwhile, Petrenko is like the rest of us.

"Just yesterday, I spent a half an hour cleaning off my car," he said.

Matt Brown, a resident assistant at Kansas University's Hashinger Hall, scraped ice from his windshield earlier this month. Brown knows about dealing with ice and snow - he's from Grand Forks, N.D. A professor at Dartmouth College has created a way to make ice fall from a specially treated vertical surface.

Matt Brown, a resident assistant at Kansas University's Hashinger Hall, scraped ice from his windshield earlier this month. Brown knows about dealing with ice and snow - he's from Grand Forks, N.D. A professor at Dartmouth College has created a way to make ice fall from a specially treated vertical surface.

Chipping away

While I wait for Petrenko's product to get to market, I needed to see what ice scrapers were out there.

One I ran across looked like it could take on Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf - the IceDozer Plus Ice Scraper (about $17), which is made by the Innovation Factory, Haverton, Pa. (InnovationFactory.com)

The size and shape set it apart. Inventor-in-Chief Marvin Weinberger made it look like a yellow, handheld bulldozer, with a polycarbonate blade seven inches wide and curved to fit the shape of the windshield.

It also had an polyethelene ergonomic handle and two different sets of "teeth" to crunch up any frozen tundra. It also comes with a removable miniscraper, a brush and the IceNotch to get ice chunks off the wiper blade.

And you've got to love the promotional material that refers to "carbide style Tenderizers," the sharp, plastic spikes you slam down onto the ice to crack through.

I almost expected to see a motor on this baby, too. But it's manual all the way, running on arm-and-shoulder power made easier by an ergonomic handle.

Another high-powered tool is the Mallory Pivot Head Sport TeleBroom model 583-EP, from Mallory Industries (malloryindustries.com) for about $20.

I liked it for its long reach - it extends from 38 to 58 inches. On one end is an unbreakable scraper blade and on the other is a snow broom with a 10-inch squeegee.

I also found a few electric devices - ice scrapers that heat up when you plug an attached cord into your cigarette lighter. Eddie Bauer (eddiebaueroutlet.com) has one for $9.99 that has a 15-foot cord, a plastic body and a heat element that warms up in two minutes.

Cold war

I went out to my own car in the morning and saw a light coating of frost - at least it wasn't the half-inch-thick coating of sleet and ice from a few days ago.

I turned on the defroster and reached for the ice scraper.

Where is it?

I groaned, remembering I must have put it in one of the girl's cars.

I looked around some more and found an all-too-familiar substitute.

As I scraped, I realized that until Petrenko comes out with his one-second, "pulse electro-thermal de-icer" system, I can always turn to the sharp edge of a hot CD case.

We need Steve Jobs to come up with an iScraper.

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