Dynamic Defrosting on Scalable Superhydrophobic Surfaces

Recent studies have shown that frost can grow in a suspended Cassie state on nanostructured superhydrophobic surfaces. During defrosting, the melting sheet of Cassie frost spontaneously dewets into quasi-spherical slush droplets that are highly mobile. Promoting Cassie frost would therefore seem advantageous from a defrosting standpoint; however, nobody has systematically compared the efficiency of defrosting Cassie ice versus defrosting conventional surfaces. Here, we characterize the defrosting of an aluminum plate, one-half of which exhibits a superhydrophobic nanostructure while the other half is smooth and hydrophobic. For thick frost sheets (>1 mm), the superhydrophobic surface was able to dynamically shed the meltwater, even at very low tilt angles. In contrast, the hydrophobic surface was unable to shed any appreciable meltwater even at a 90° tilt angle. For thin frost layers (≲1 mm), not even the superhydrophobic surface could mobilize the meltwater. We attribute this to the large apparent contact angle of the meltwater, which for small amounts of frost serves to minimize coalescence events and prevent droplets from approaching the capillary length. Finally, we demonstrate a new mode of dynamic defrosting using an upside-down surface orientation, where the melting frost was able to uniformly detach from the superhydrophobic side and subsequently pull the frost from the hydrophobic side in a chain reaction. Treating surfaces to enable Cassie frost is therefore very desirable for enabling rapid and low-energy thermal defrosting, but only for frost sheets that are sufficiently thick.