December 20, 2006 On cold winter mornings, car drivers often encounter moisture precipitating on the inside of the windscreen. This happens when warm, humid air comes into contact with a cold surface. At a particular temperature, known as the dew point, the moisture in the air condenses and forms a layer on the colder surface; irrespective of whether this is a glass containing a cold drink, the bathroom mirror after a shower, or the windshield of a cold car. Cold air is not able to contain as much moisture as warm air and this fact is much more noticeable in small spaces. Condensation can be prevented by increasing the volume of air (opening the windows), by heating the whole of the vehicle’s interior, or by heating at least the windshield to a temperature above the dew point. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Technology Development Group TEG in Stuttgart favour a third option. His new process warms up the windscreen – though not with costly copper heating elements, but instead with a transparent coat of carbon nano tubes (CNT).
Ivica Kolaric and his team are currently working on a bonding system which, in a year or two from now, could keep not only windshields but also bathroom mirrors free from condensation. When attached to an electricity supply, the lacquer coating is transformed into a wide, flat heater which exactly covers the surface to be heated and continues to function even when it is damaged in places.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
If a heated windshield containing wire heating elements is chipped by a stone, for example, and one of the wires is severed, the entire heater could very well cease to function because of the interruption to the current. For the CNT heater, however, a few small defects in the coating are not a problem because the current flows over the whole surface. A further advantage of the “flat” conductor is its uniform heat distribution.
Every single point on the surface of the windshield is heated evenly, rather than the warmth radiating outwards from the heating elements. The CNT coating itself does not store any heat. “The lacquer converts the electricity almost entirely into warmth and transfers this to the windshield,” explains Kolaric. The windshield is clear in a very short time with minimal power consumption. “What’s more,” he stresses, “the CNT resistance heater can be integrated in the vehicle’s standard 12-volt power supply.”