Researchers want to power a new kind of engine using a phenomenon known as the “Leidenfrost effect.”
— wtuckwong (@wtuckwong) February 25, 2015
The Leidenfrost effect occurs when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point (think about what happens when drops of water appear to dance across the surface of a very hot frying pan.) Upon contact, a layer of vapor forms between the liquid-solid interface, creating a barrier between the two.
This also applies to dry ice, which can levitate above hot surfaces because of a thin barrier of evaporated gas vapor.
The researchers, whose work has been published in the journal Nature Communications, proposed for the first time using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine.
This innovative new technique has various implications for long-term space travel, phys.org reported. The colonization of distant planets could be made possible using carbon dioxide, which is easily accessible and renewable.
In fact, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has sent home evidence suggesting that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars.
"Carbon dioxide plays a similar role on Mars as water does on Earth. It is a widely available resource which undergoes cyclic phase changes under the natural Martian temperature variations” Dr. Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, a co-author on the study, said.
"Perhaps future power stations on Mars will exploit such a resource to harvest energy as dry-ice blocks evaporate, or to channel the chemical energy extracted from other carbon-based sources, such as methane gas.”
"The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine is quite distinct from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapour layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties," said co-author Dr. Gary Wells.
Professor Glen McHale, Executive Dean for Engineering and Environment at Northumbria University, said the technology has the potential for further breakthroughs.
"This is the starting point of an exciting avenue of research in smart materials engineering. In the future, Leidenfrost-based devices could find applications in wide ranging fields, spanning from frictionless transport to outer space exploration."