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Researchers develop genius new anti-fogging method to keep glasses, car windshields clear: 'Optical coatings need to be transparent'

"High value-added applications like this are important."

"High value-added applications like this are important."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists in Finland are putting an often discarded byproduct from the paper industry to interesting use, as it could one day clear your vision on the ski slopes or while driving. 

The experts developed the breakthrough at the Academy of Finland's flagship FinnCERES lab. They are using lignin, a hard-to-process byproduct of paper and pulp making, to create a transparent, fog-preventing coating for glasses and vehicle windows, according to Phys.org

Lignin is often burned to make heat. However, the new innovation provides an alternative to the synthetic coatings now used on lenses and windows by putting the natural polymer to good use — saving the material from the burn pile. 

What's more, this method creates a carbon sink, a scenario where more air pollution is absorbed or avoided than is produced, per Phys.org

Using lignin for anti-fog tech isn't novel, but creating transparent surfaces in the process has been elusive, the experts said in a FinnCERES report, summarized by Phys.org. 

"Optical coatings need to be transparent, but so far, even rather thin lignin particle films have been visible," doctoral researcher Alexander Henn, the study's lead author, told Phys.org.

The process of creating the clear, fog-resistant, and reflective coating is surprisingly quick and esterifying. The unique chemistry process takes only minutes in an environment heated to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, Phys.org reported

A diagram shared by FinnCERES shows the anti-fog material clearing the view on ski goggles. Pieces of the material shown in a photograph shared by Phys.org look almost like strips of camera film, with unique colorations. 

An offshoot discovery from the research is that the process can create colored "photonic films" and coatings, per the lab report. These types of coatings are often used in multiple industries, including medicine and electronics, to "increase the reflection, transmission, or polarization properties of … prisms, polarizing films, color filters, mirrors, diffraction mosaics, and refractory lenses," Dr. Priyom Bose wrote for AZO Materials. 

The colorful creation was a bonus for the FinnCERES team. 

"The possibility to make photonic films … came as a total surprise," Henn told Phys.org.

The researchers said the technique, proven viable through their feasibility study, could be "profitably" scaled to industrial levels. The study took "techno-economic" factors into account, in part because of the diverse backgrounds of the experts on the team, Henn said in the Phys.org story. This allowed the team to assess the benefits of the technology against the costs. 

"High value-added applications like this are important," Professor Monika Österberg said in the report, to "move us away from using lignin only as a fuel."

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