Inhibition of Condensation Frosting by Arrays of Hygroscopic Antifreeze Drops

The formation of frost and ice can have negative impacts on travel and a variety of industrial processes and is typically addressed by dispensing antifreeze substances such as salts and glycols. Despite the popularity of this anti-icing approach, some of the intricate underlying physical mechanisms are just being unraveled. For example, recent studies have shown that in addition to suppressing ice formation within its own volume, an individual salt saturated water microdroplet forms a region of inhibited condensation and condensation frosting (RIC) in its surrounding area. This occurs because salt saturated water, like most antifreeze substances, is hygroscopic and has water vapor pressure at its surface lower than water saturation pressure at the substrate. Here, we demonstrate that for macroscopic drops of propylene glycol and salt saturated water, the absolute RIC size can remain essentially unchanged for several hours. Utilizing this observation, we demonstrate that frost formation can be completely inhibited in-between microscopic and macroscopic arrays of propylene glycol and salt saturated water drops with spacing (<i>S</i>) smaller than twice the radius of the RIC (δ). Furthermore, by characterizing condensation frosting dynamics around various hygroscopic drop arrays, we demonstrate that they can delay complete frosting over of the samples 1.6 to 10 times longer than films of the liquids with equivalent volume. The significant delay in onset of ice nucleation achieved by dispensing propylene glycol in drops rather than in films is likely due to uniform dilution of the drops driven by thermocapillary flow. This transport mode is absent in the films, leading to faster dilution, and with that facilitated homogeneous nucleation, near the liquid–air interface.