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Slippery Coatings to Promote Energy Conversion

Adaptive Surface Technologies
ARPA-E Award: 
Cambridge, MA
Project Term: 
04/26/2013 to 09/07/2019
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Energy-efficient performance of coatings is critical in nearly every aspect of the modern economy, including but not limited to: oil and water transport, district cooling/heating systems, refrigeration, and waste water treatment/water circulation systems. For example, friction from rough surfaces, corrosion, and/or build-up of contaminants results in energy waste in many different applications. There is a need to improve the energy efficiency of these energy-intensive infrastructures.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Adaptive Surface Technologies is developing a slippery coating that can be used for a number of technology applications including oil and water pipelines, wastewater treatment systems, solar panels (to prevent dust accumulation), refrigeration (to prevent ice buildup), as well as many other energy-relevant applications. Contamination, build-up of microorganisms, and corrosion of untreated surfaces can lead to inefficiencies in the system. Adaptive Surface Technologies' liquid-based coating is tailored to adhere to and then spread out evenly over a rough surface, forming a completely smooth surface that inhibits buildup. Since it is liquid-based, it can easily repair itself if scratched or damaged, resulting in a stable coating with the potential to significantly outperform conventional technologies, such as Teflon, in friction and drag reduction and in repelling a broad range of contaminants.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Adaptive Surface Technologies' slippery, liquid-based, self-repairing coatings would benefit a number of applications that would result in energy savings and increased efficiencies in various energy-intensive applications. An illustrative example is the application of the coating to pipelines, with impacts detailed below.


Improving the energy efficiency in fluid transport processes can help the U.S. maintain its technological leadership in the liquid transportation market that currently is greater than $10 billion.


Enhancing fluid transport energy efficiency by 50% could potentially have an energy savings greater than 400 trillion BTU/year.


Improving system inefficiencies by reducing contamination and build-up could significantly reduce energy consumption and increase functional efficiency of these energy-intensive industrial sectors.

Innovation Update: 

The Harvard team has developed a coating technology that reduces friction in a variety of applications, helping reduce energy loss. The team formed a new company, SLIPS Technologies Inc., launched in October 2014 that is funded by venture capital financing. The company is commercializing SLIPS for various uses in industrial, consumer, and medical applications. Refrigeration is an example of an important energy-focused application where SLIPS coatings can significantly reduce the energy needed for defrost cycles. The Harvard team’s defrosting application is on a promising track to develop viable commercial products and grow in market penetration. This application could save more than 2,650 GWh of energy consumed annually in the U.S. for residential and commercial refrigeration, with a corresponding annual reduction of more than 1.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. 

The Harvard project team developed an energy-saving coating by creating a surface layer that is porous at the nanometer scale, and then filled the pores with a low-friction fluid. This approach was inspired by the strategy that carnivorous plants use to create robust low-friction surfaces. To do this economically, the team developed methods to create low-cost nano-structured coatings on a variety of different surfaces. The team has combined different structured coatings with different fluid fillers, creating a wide range of designed surface properties. The liquid-filled structures repair themselves if scratched or damaged, resulting in stable coatings with the potential to outperform conventional technologies.

For more information on the SLIPS' team project and impact, please click here

ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Philseok Kim
Harvard University
Pennsylvania State University
Release Date: