The 2018 Winter Olympics may be over but people are talking about ways to help even the playing field to eliminate bias towards colder countries. Many winter Olympic sports are played on ice, and this seemingly gives an unfair advantage to countries where cold temperatures are common.
Could ice surfaces, bobsled, and skeleton tracks be made in plastic “synthetic ice” to make the sport more accessible? Possibly, but the challenge of finding a polymer coating that allows for sleds to travel 125 kilometers per hour or more is proving difficult. It also needs to be durable, cost-effective, and safe which is becoming a pretty tall order.
Jan-Anders Månsson, director of Purdue University’s Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center, has been looking at a high-density plastic called “ultrahigh-molecular-weight” polyethylene to replace ice. Similar plastics are already used as protective coatings on medical devices and dump truck beds, and it’s similar to the plastic used in shopping bags.