UNL researcher has developed a conductive concrete that can de-ice itself, making roads safer during winter weather

PictureChris Tuan, professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska-LincolnA team of researchers from the University of Nebraska have seen promising advances with concrete they’ve developed that can produce a enough of an electrical current to melt snow and ice away from its surface. Video Caption: Four hours of time-lapse footage show conductive concrete melting fresh snow from its surface during a winter storm that hit Omaha in late December 2015.Chris Tuan, professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska, has led the effort on figuring out a way that roads can de-ice themselves without any assistance. 

Tuan and his team of researchers discovered that mixing small amounts of steel shavings and carbon into the concrete has made the concrete conductive enough to carry an electrical charge. The new concrete has the ability to melt snow and ice but remain safe to touch at the same time. The concept of a concrete that can de-ice itself is nothing to new to the scientific community but Tuan and his team have been at the forefront of turning their idea into reality.

​The Federal Aviation Administration has been testing the new material in a pilot program that concludes in March. The FAA says that if the test goes well, they will indeed use the conductive concrete on airport tarmacs across the United States.

Tuan said in a recent press release:
“To my surprise, they don’t want to use it for the runways. What they need is the tarmac around the gated areas cleared, because they have so many carts to unload — luggage service, food service, trash service, fuel service — that all need to get into those areas.

“They said that if we can heat that kind of tarmac, then there would be (far fewer) weather-related delays. We’re very optimistic.” Tuan knows that building entire roadways with concrete is not feasible but believes that the new concrete can be used in specific places.

“Bridges always freeze up first, because they’re exposed to the elements on top and bottom,” he said in the release. “It’s not cost-effective to build entire roadways using conductive concrete, but you can use it at certain locations where you always get ice or have potholes.”

Tuan and the Nebraska Department of Roads made a 150-foot test bridge in 2002 that is the world’s first to incorporate the conductive concrete. The test bridge has 52 conductive slabs that have successfully de-iced the bridge’s surface for more than a decade. Researchers say that the power required to thermally de-ice the test bridge during a three-day storm cost approximately $250, which is much more affordable than what salt and chemical solutions would cost to treat.

With the FAA actively testing the concrete and UNL’s test bridge being a success, the new self-sustaining road surface shows a promising future.

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