SFU researchers develop new waterproof coating

·2 min read
Researchers at SFU say the waterproof coating they created could be used for fabrics as well as construction materials.   (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Researchers at SFU say the waterproof coating they created could be used for fabrics as well as construction materials. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A team of chemists at Simon Fraser University in Metro Vancouver have discovered a new waterproof coating they say is more effective, cheaper to producer and safer to use than similar products currently on the market.

Dr. Hua-Zhong (Hogan) Yu, a chemistry professor at SFU, led the team of students and researchers who discovered the new coating.

"Our idea is, of course, to create new solutions, not just a new coating — solutions for daily life," Yu said.

The coating was tested on different types of surfaces including fabrics, wood and aluminum. In all cases, droplets of water simply rolled off the tested surface.

Yu says the formula has potential to be used as a consumer product in a spray can or as a coating for construction.

The formula has been patented, Yu says, adding that he has already started getting calls from companies interested in working with him to customize the coating for their particular needs.

The research findings were recently published in Nature Communications.

Accidental discovery

Yu says the product was discovered by accident as a result of two of his students conducting a routine experiment in 2016. One was an undergraduate, Yu says, and the other was graduate student Lishen Zhang.

When they each tested the results, they discovered the undergraduate's had superior hydrophobic properties.

"It took quite a few years to fully understand the mechanism behind the formation of this hydrophobic coating," Yu said.

It turns out one of the key factors was the undergraduate student had less time to dedicate to the experiment, and it was left out longer and exposed to air.

Cheaper, more effective

Over the next few years they continued to test and improve the coating, resulting in the patented formula. The researchers compared it to similar consumer spray coatings, Yu says, and theirs was superior.

Yu says he believes his coating will also be cheaper to produce because of the few elements required to make it and the relatively easy one-step process that doesn't require expensive equipment.

Another advantage Yu points out is that his product is safer than most waterproofing coatings, which usually include highly flammable fluorinated compounds.

The team is currently working with SFU's Technology Licensing Office to determine how best to apply the findings in a commercial setting.