Conductive concrete melts ice

By Chris McCahill

A new type of pavement developed at the University of Nebraska could keep bridges and other surfaces clear during inclement weather without using heavy equipment or chemicals. The product is a concrete mixture that conducts just enough electrical current to melt ice and snow, while being safe to touch. The material is composed of 20 percent carbon and steel byproducts from industrial processes.

Civil engineering professor Chris Tuan patented the material and has been working with the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Federal Aviation Administration to test it and find its best uses. He admits the concrete is too expensive to use everywhere, but he sees some key applications. NDOR tested the substance on a bridge for five years and found that, during storm events, the costs were markedly lower than the costs for typical chemical treatments and plowing. The FAA is interested in using the substance on tarmacs around gates where planes are loaded and unloaded.

Tuan sees other potential uses as well, including bridges, busy intersections, ramps, sidewalks, driveways, and patios. By altering the mixture, he can also produce a concrete that blocks electromagnetic waves, including mobile phone signals and electrical surges. These materials aren’t a particularly new development, but the concrete must still undergo thorough testing before gaining industry acceptance.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.