UBCO tech breakthrough

New research out of UBC Okanagan could help keep us all dry in the not too distant future.

Kevin Golovin is putting the finishing touches on research that could help boats travel through water and not get wet.  

"This technology was initially commissioned by the U.S. Navy," says Golovin, assistant professor of engineering.

"It's a mixture of nanoparticles and plastic, and those particles are hydrophobic, so they don't like water and they are far enough apart to trap air – that's why water just rolls off."

For those of us who are not rocket scientists, nanoparticles are at least a thousand times smaller than the head of a pin. They come in powder or solution form and, combined with plastic, form a waterproof, textured network.

"This technology has been around for at least five years, and people had shown that these type of surfaces can reduce drag on boats, but only in steady, calm water. The U.S. Navy is, of course, interested in going through the ocean as fast as possible."

Golovin says the breakthrough came when he got the solution to work in highly turbulent conditions.

"These coatings also introduce roughness, so no one really knew if you had roughness, could you actually achieve lower drag? What we figured out is you can still reduce drag if you minimize the size of these particles while still keeping as much air trapped at the surface as possible."

From there, things really opened up. Golovin says the tech is now being used inside oil and gas pipelines, and they are working with B.C. companies Arcteryx and Lululemon on waterproofing and streamlining clothing.

"These same type of sprays can be used on the sides of jackets. We're just a couple of months away from helping waterproof your clothes or for something like swimwear."

Just in time, because the current market leader, Gore-Tex made from short-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), is being phased out because it is harmful to oceans.

So not only is the breakthrough going to make future ships and boats more efficient, keep people dry and looking good, it will also help reduce the amount of harmful waste that finds its way into the ocean.

Otherwise known as a win, win, win.

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