Imagine a world where we could enjoy a blizzard without worrying about school delays, snowplows, or slushy streets. Fueled by this dream, Chris Tuan, a civil engineering professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has developed a formula for conductive concrete that can carry enough electrical current to melt snow, CityLab reports.
With funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, Tuan has created a concrete mixture that contains industrial waste products—steel shavings and a fine powder made from coal called “coke breeze”—in addition to the usual sand, cement, and water. Steel rods are inserted inside the finished slabs of concrete and attached to a power source. Heat spreads across the concrete’s surface, melting the snow.
The FAA is interested in using the concrete on airport tarmacs to prevent winter storm delays. However, the concrete also shows promise in urban areas. In 2003, Tuan and engineering colleague Lim Nguyen tested a version of the product by installing 52 slabs onto a 150-foot bridge near Lincoln. Results of their five-year experiment were published in the Journal of Cold Regions Engineering, and showed that the concrete successfully thawed the bridge in icy weather. The technology was also far less expensive than snowplows and salt, CityLab relays; it only cost $250 to power the slabs for a three-day storm.
Currently, Tuan is tinkering with the concrete’s formula, swapping out some pricier ingredients with cheaper ones to make it more affordable for widespread use. Since the technology is still costly compared to standard concrete, he thinks it might work better as a strategically deployed road tool, used on intersections, exit ramps, uphill roads, and other locations that are prone to collisions during winter storms. Otherwise, Tuan expects for it to be approved by the FAA once testing wraps up later this year.
Learn more about Tuan’s invention by reading CityLab’s full interview, or check out the above time-lapse video of a 200-square-foot concrete test slab in action.
Banner images via YouTube.