I love winter, I really do. I also opted to get a 4×4 vehicle so I’m never really home bound, even in the worst blizzard. This is something not every New Englander has the luxury of owning, which means most people have to wait for those awful plow trucks to come through. Besides being loud, spewing emissions, and tearing up asphalt, putting plows on the road costs states many millions of dollars every winter.
But self-heating roads could melt snow before it ever gets a chance to accumulate while eliminating corrosive road salting and extensive plowing during winter snow storms.
Christina Chang and her colleagues at the University of Houston, Texas, are working on a design to incorporate heating elements into the asphalt and concrete roads to reduce the use of plowing. It’s a little weird that a Texas school is pursuing research for a problem they don’t have, but any idea that would get plow trucks off the roads is good to me.
So far, three ideas have been vetted. They first tried using fly ash, a by-product of coal power plants, followed by steel shavings. The idea is to use an element that resists electricity, thus producing heat. Both ideas worked, but the best ideas involve carbon nanofibres which heat the road much faster. The nanofibres are stacked like cups on a paper sheet and were able to heat a slab of concrete 10 centimeters thick and 25 centimeters in area from -10 degrees C to 0 degrees C in two hours using 6 watts of power.
Heating a whole roadway is going to take a lot more energy. It may even take more energy than all the combined plow trucks and salting equipment. Then there is a matter of what to do with all that excess melted snow… if two feet of snow are set to fall, what happens to the slush as it melts? Will it freeze to overpasses? Can this process be applied to the whole road system, or just highways?
It’s a good idea that needs some careful investigation. But if I don’t have to get stuck behind plows anymore, I would be most appreciative, and I think so would the environment.