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Professor Anand awarded two grants

Professor Anand and assistant doing experiment

Winter is coming! City landscapes will soon transform into winter wonderlands blanketed with snow and shimmering icicles dangling from homes and buildings.

“Ice is one of the most beautiful structures in nature,” said Professor Sushant Anand, of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UIC. “It’s one of the most symmetric crystals found in nature. We’ve all seen snowflakes and there have been countless number of poems written about snowflakes and how each snowflake is unique. But its beauty aside, ice can cause a lot of problems in many different circumstances.”

Ice buildup on the roadways can have a serious impact, including car accidents, traffic congestion, and billions of dollars lost in economic productivity. The most viable solution worldwide is to use deicing salts that suppress ice formation through freezing point depression. Often, salt is deposited on the roads multiple times throughout the season. Unfortunately, its usage poses significant threats to the economy and environment.

Nearly 43 percent of salt usage is related to deicing highways — a cost of approximately $2.2 billion — in the United States alone. Deicing salts are taking a toll on our infrastructure by increasing the corrosion of steel structures and the disintegration of concrete.

The salts increase the soil salinity near roads causing higher alkanity, increased moisture retention, and loss of soil fertility, which affects plant growth. The salt can also percolate through soil, ultimately reaching lakes and underground water systems where the increase in salinity can lead to significantly harmful effects on flora, marine life, and our drinking water.

“When I looked into this problem, I thought it needs a new solution; something that can decrease the environmental impact of the salts, and still be effective,” said Anand. “A new form of deicing salts is the vision.”

“[My team] is looking into how salt functions in preventing ice formation,” he said. “Through our research we came up with a new form of salt with environmentally-friendly chemicals. We tested it in the lab and it has the ability to function like normal salt, but it also has a longer lifetime than regular salt. Furthermore, its components can potentially be reclaimed later on through sewage systems, and salt can be separated. Even if it gets removed through the waste water system, it can be collected and the salt can be separated. It won’t wash away in the water.”

The professor’s research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled “EAGER: A bio-inspired approach for enhancing lifetime of salts during icing and frost formation.” Anand is the principal investigator for the two-year project and was awarded nearly $100,000.

The NSF’s EAGER funding supports exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches. The research could be considered especially “high risk-high payoff” in the sense that it, involves radically different approaches, applies new expertise, or engages novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

Anand’s work in this area is geared toward the development of a new class of environmental sustainable deicing salts that will benefit transportation safety, infrastructure longevity, land stewardship, and economic productivity.

Branco Weiss Fellowship Research

The NSF grant is Anand’s second award since joining the MIE department last year. In August 2015, he was one of only nine recipients chosen from more than 565 applicants worldwide to receive the prestigious Society in Science Branco Weiss Fellowship, which is sponsored by ETH Zurich.

Anand was awarded more than $355,000 for the research titled “Water Harvesting through Engineered Surfaces,” which will last three years. The award is geared toward supporting young scientists early in their career.

The research associated with the grant also has an eco-conscious theme to it.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is finding a sustainable solution for collecting water in areas where there is a lack of water,” said Anand. “Water is something that all of us need for many activities, especially for living. In Chicago, we don’t suffer from a water crisis, but there is a large population on our planet that don’t have access to clean drinking water.”

Currently, the most viable solution for water collection is desalination, which is energy intensive, a costly process, and needs a small body of water.

“In areas that are landlocked and arid, how do you get water?” asked Anand. “The solution that I am working on is to collect water from the air. In the air, we have humidity and that is something I want to tap and collect water from the vapor. We will do it through fog collection or dew collection.”

With fog, there are areas which the environmental conditions have already produced microscopic drops. It can be collected on a surface and used for drinking water or other purposes. The dew has water in the form of vapor and it can be condensed by cooling a surface in its vicinity and then collected.

“We are looking into different kinds of surfaces which have the ability to condense water at very low humidity,” said Anand. “The process will decrease the energy required for condensing the same amount of water. The concept can be used for water collection, but it can also be used in the existing desalination plants, power plants, etc. The concept of condensation, apart from water collection, is very critical in the operation of all of these plants. This process has the ability to increase the efficiency of the plants.”

The research will explore environmental friendly materials and investigate coating techniques for applying them at large scales.

“It has its challenges and that’s what makes it fun,” said Anand. “But if it’s successful, it can lead to huge transformations in the energy spent to collect water.”

Learn more about Professor Sushant Anand’s research at Anand Laboratory.