Dartmouth engineering professor and entrepreneur Victor Petrenko—along with his colleagues at Dartmouth and at Ice Engineering, LLC in Lebanon, N.H.—have invented a way to cheaply and effectively keep ice off power lines.

The new proprietary technology is called a variable resistance cable (VRC) de-icing system. With only minor cable modifications, plus some off-the-shelf electronics, the system switches the electrical resistance of a standard power line from low to high. The high resistance automatically creates heat to melt ice buildup or keep it from forming in the first place.

“The beauty of the VRC system is that it’s fully customizable and is an affordable addition to the current manufacturing and installation process,” said Gabriel Martinez, Ice Engineering’s vice president who studied under Petrenko. “And it works without causing any service interruption whatsoever.”

“The technology builds on many years of research in materials science, power electronics, and ice physics with my colleagues at Dartmouth, such as Prof. Charles Sullivan, an expert in power electronics and a co-inventor of the VRC de-icer,” said Petrenko, who is founder, chief technology officer and chairman of the board of Ice Engineering.

Ice Engineering planned to install and test a full-scale VRC system prototype on a section of power line in Orenburg, Russia, in late January 2009. The company also is negotiating full-scale installations of VRC in other regions of Russia and in China.

Martinez said the system would pay for itself during the next storm by practically eliminating the cost of fixing downed cables and power outages due to ice and snow, which means power lines could become more reliable and require fewer fixes.