Conductive Concrete: Using Electric Currents to Melt Snow

It’s been a little over a week now since the East Coast was slammed by the historical Storm Jonas, a.k.a. the “snowmageddon” that dropped over 2 feet of snow in most areas. While most, if not all streets and sidewalks are cleared by now, they weren’t a couple of days after the snow started to taper off. I’m still seeing snow mounds on every corner of the streets. What if there were areas like on bridges and airport tarmacs that didn’t need even one shovel or grain of salt to remove snow and ice? What if there were specific areas that were prone to car accidents due to snow and ice that never saw a dusting of snow or ice ever again? Lives would be saved, and potholes would be decreased dramatically! Maybe even money savings on plows and salting. This dream may become a reality to us in the near future, thanks to conductive concrete.

 

snowybridge

 

While the concept has been around for a long long time, a “new” type of concrete is making headlines across the Internet. Invented by professor Chris Tuan at the University of Nebraska, his conductive concrete mixture is able to de-ice itself with a mixture of 20% steel shavings and carbon particles. Once an electric current comes into contact with the conductive particles in the concrete, it produces just enough electricity to melt snow and ice, while still safe to touch by the human hand. The trick is to power the concrete before a major storm hits. This will “preheat” the area, and when the snow hits, it would be melted instantly. Can you imagine an area that wouldn’t need plowing or salting? This is exactly what Tuan was envisioning when he invented this new type of conductive concrete mixture.

conductive concrete
Chris Tuan, Professor of Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo Credit: http://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/unltoday/article/de-icing-concrete-could-improve-roadway-safety/

 

Tuan and a research team have been trying to perfect their conductive concrete for over a decade. Their earlier version of the mixture was a test patch made applicable in 2002 on the Roca Spur Bridge in Nebraska, the world’s first bridge that utilized de-icing concrete. With 52 slabs of the conductive concrete installed on the 150ft bridge, the Roca Spur Bridge was able to de-ice itself successfully, only costing $250 to power it up over a 3 day storm period (which is said to be a lot cheaper than utilizing plow trucks and salt). Since the testing of the conductive concrete on the Roca Spur Bridge, which lasted a 5 year period, Chris Tuan and his research team have been perfecting their mixture to make it more affordable and scalable, which they have since the first inception in 2002.

 

While Tuan believes that not every roadway and sidewalk in the world should use his conductive concrete (still a higher cost than regular concrete), he believes it would be beneficial for areas that are more prone to vehicle accidents, like exit ramps, intersections, and uphill roadways. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has already shown interest in Tuan’s conductive concrete. If approved, the FAA wants to test it at one major U.S. airport for the tarmacs around the gated areas in hopes to decrease weather-related delays. This has the potential to grow and be utilized in many airports if successful, and maybe even for more bridges, as well as roadways across the U.S.

 

Applying electricity for snow and ice removal that could save money on plows and salt, and potentially, people’s lives. Now that is a concept worth blogging about.

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