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'Electric' Concrete Found to De-ice Itself

A slab of conductive concrete demonstrates its de-icing capability outside the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha during a winter storm in December 2015. (Courtesy photo/Chris Tuan and Lim Nguyen)

As the East Coast of the United States continues to dig out from an historic winter storm, researchers say they have developed a kind of concrete surface that melts snow and ice before it accumulates.

The secret, say researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is passing a tiny amount of electrical current through the concrete, warming it enough to melt winter precipitation.

Researcher Chris Tuan accomplished this by adding small amounts of steel shavings and some carbon particles to standard cement.

While not something that could be used for all concrete surfaces, the special mix could help warm important infrastructure, like airports or bridges, which tend to freeze before roads.

It is currently being tested by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"To my surprise, they do not want to use it for the runways," Tuan said. "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 are very optimistic."

Bridges also provide a potential use for the concrete.

"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."

For now, Tuan is using the concrete at home.

"I have a patio in my backyard that is made of conductive concrete," he said. "So I am practicing what I preach."

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