Surfaces exposed to natural or synthetic liquids can become fouled with biofilms. This biofouling is a costly problem that impacts ecological and human health, energy infrastructure, carbon emissions, and machine performance. In marine environments, biofilms thinner than the width of a human hair can increase drag on a ship by 22 percent. Biofouling is also the leading cause of aquatic invasive species transport. For the energy sector in the United States, the estimated cost of biofouling at power plants is about $50 billion per year, primarily for cleaning heat exchange systems. The current approach to preventing biofouling is to coat surfaces with chemicals that are toxic to living organisms and often to the surrounding environment. These coatings may also have limited durability; require complex, expensive processes to produce; and struggle to cover large or irregular surfaces.
Superhydrophobic Lubricant Infused Composite (SLIC), developed by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is a non-toxic, durable, hydrophobic and antifouling coating that is ten times more liquid-repellant than Teflon. Its unique surface nanostructure holds in place a lubricant-like oil that repels biofouling. Its paintable nanostructure comprises two types of particle materials, such as silica, metals, metal oxides, ceramics, diatomaceous earth, and combinations, which are inexpensive and readily available. The composite is also self-healing, increasing durability.
SLIC may be applied to large and irregular surfaces with brush painting, roller painting, spray painting, and dip coating, without heat and without priming from chemicals. And it can be manufactured using common industrial processes.
SLIC could be used in industrial and commercial applications where hydrophobic and antifouling properties are key. Examples include aerospace, automotive, optics, healthcare, and consumer products. SLIC can be used for de-icing, anti-fogging, self-cleaning, anti-wetting, anti-corrosion, antifouling, antimicrobial protection, drag reduction, and non-stick coatings. It can be applied to both rigid and flexible surfaces, including fabrics and stretchable polymers (e.g., latex).
- Is self-healing for enhanced durability
- Can be manufactured from inexpensive, readily available materials using common industrial processes
- Is environmentally friendly
- Can be applied to large and irregular surfaces