Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Icy Business: The Surfactants Behind Hockey Ice

In Helsinki it is really cold.  I believe yesterday was -15 C.  It was snowing, there was ice and now there is more ice.  Kids have their skates and are playing hockey outside.  My colleague mentioned that he made some ice the other day for his complex.  It sounds like a stupid question but I asked anyway.

'How do you make ice?'
'Well you take water and put it out on the surface.  We have a pump out back with a hose.'
'And then you wait for it to freeze. Then you add more water and using a sharp tool you level it.'

I have never made ice but likely the ice that is homemade does not look nor feel anything like you would get in an NHL game. Since I have never made ice I take it for granted the great looking ice at the ice skating rinks and hockey arenas.  There is a lot of work to make ice from the ice makers to the zamboni drivers to clean it as well as some surface chemistry that I was not aware.

Canadians are actually some of the best ice makers as they have made the ice at a number of the winter Olympics (and putting a Loony in the center ice for good luck). They have also created products for making better ice surfaces.  Jet Ice is an all Canadian company that was started in 1979 to make specialty paints and surfactants and a system for ice venues (curling, hockey, bobsled, figureskating ect)Their Jet Gloss - degasification system for optimal strong ice.  This liquid surfactant is added to the ice resurfacing water for the last flood of the day. They say it is designed to remove air trapped in the ice phase, this ice dressing provides a brighter, glossier ice surface.  Like any surfactant this will lower the surface tension of water and allow smaller droplets of water to be formed which possibly helps in making a glossier surface.

So with the help of surfactants (and of course better camera and lighting technologies) you can watch hockey at home or at the arena and see everything better.  You can notice the difference if watch a video from pre-1979 hockey.  You will likely see a very dull nearly brown ice surface.  Today you have a bright surface due to the expertise of the surfactants that the Jet Ice team use.  Check this video out the Guy Lafleur game winner from the 1979 Stanley Cup between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. 

And compare it to this brawl between the Boston Bruins and Canadiens brawl a couple of years ago.