Conductive concrete could keep roads safer in winter weather

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) professor of civil engineering, Chris Tuan, has added steel shavings and carbon particles to a 200 square foot slab of concrete outside the Peter Kiewit Institute in nearby Omaha. Though the added ingredients constitute 20% of Prof Tuan's otherwise standard concrete mixture, they conduct enough electricity to melt ice and snow while remaining safe to the touch.

If the Federal Aviation Administration is satisfied with the results of Prof Tuan’s project, he said the administration will consider scaling up the tests by integrating the technology into the tarmac of a major US airport.

"To my surprise, they don't want to use it for the runways," Tuan explained. "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 fewer weather-related delays," he continued.

In 2002, Prof Tuan and the Nebraska Department of Roads made the 150ft Roca Spur Bridge, the world's first to incorporate conductive concrete, inlaid with 52 conductive slabs that have been de-icing its surface for more than a decade.

"Bridges always freeze up first, because they're exposed to the elements on top and bottom," Tuan said. "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."

The power required to thermally de-ice the Roca Spur Bridge during a three-day storm typically costs about $250. Several times less than the use of salt or chemicals, that can corrode the concrete and cause potholes as well as contaminate groundwater over time.

Prof Tuan said the conductive concrete could also prove feasible for high-traffic intersections, slip-roads, driveways and pavements.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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