David Uslar

Development of efficient and environmentally friendly ski wax

As the use of fluorine compounds is prohibited in competitive sports, there is a significant need for innovative ski wax alternatives. Scientists Janno Torop and Kaija Põhako-Esko from the Institute of Technology, together with cross-country skiing leader Anti Saarepuu, secured the University of Tartu Experimental Development Grant for the development of an environmentally friendly, fluorine-free ski wax.

The development team plans to apply knowledge obtained through research on ionic polymers to create a new generation of wax. They intend to use ionic liquid-like compounds and ingredients based on natural and synthetic waxes in the development process.

In Nordic climates, traditional ski waxes were historically made from natural ingredients such as animal fats, tar, and resins. These materials were melted and applied to ski bases to improve sliding properties. Over time, the ski wax industry transitioned to synthetic materials like hydrocarbons (paraffin), fluorocarbons, and silicone compounds, which are easier to apply and yield better results than traditional waxes. The development of fluorocarbon wax was a significant breakthrough in ski wax technology.

However, it has been discovered that ski waxes containing fluorine, while providing optimal sliding properties in certain weather conditions, pose health and environmental risks. Consequently, fluorine-based ski waxes have been recalled from the market, and their distribution is no longer permitted.

In the 2023/2024 season, both the International Biathlon Union and the International Ski Federation will inspect skis in competitions to ensure that fluorine-based wax has not been used. Athletes found in violation of the rules will not be allowed to start. It is well-known to both wax manufacturers and athletes that, at the competitive level, no alternative waxes have been found to match the sliding properties of fluorine compounds.

Fluorocarbon wax contains molecular chains that repel water and create a low-friction surface upon contact with snow. This type of wax is particularly irreplaceable in conditions of high humidity and mild temperatures (0–10 °C), where other waxes tend to lose their effectiveness. The use of fluorine-based wax results in approximately 4% better sliding. In a 15-kilometer distance, this translates to a loss of 600 meters.




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