It’s not every day scientists can make kids groan, but today is one of those days. A group of researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is at war with snow days. They added a little something extra to the usual concrete recipe. Steel shavings and a pinch of carbon particles. Mix it together and boom, you got yourself concrete that can conduct electricity.
You know that massive snow storm that just hammered most of the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast? Imagine if your driveway could go from this.
To this, in just a few hours.
The designer of the concrete is UNL professor of civil engineering Chris Tuan. His team is demonstrating how effective a 200 square foot slab of concrete is at deicing to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). There’s still a couple of months of additional testing left. But, if the FAA likes what they see, they may scale up tests by using the technology on the tarmac of a major U.S. airport.
It would be perfect for runways, right? Not exactly. “To my surprise, they don’t want to use it for the runways,” said Tuan. “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’re very optimistic,” Tuan added.
Makes sense. Plus, the FAA could see how well it performs in an area with a lot of traffic, before considering it on a runway.
Tuan has good reason to be optimistic. In 2002, he helped the Nebraska Department of Roads make the Roca Spur Bridge (15 miles south of Lincoln) the world’s first to use conductive concrete. 52 conductive slabs have been de-icing it for more than a decade.
Bridges are a great example of where conductive concrete works best. We all see the signs on the roads; Bridge May Ice In Cold Weather. Or some variation of it. That’s because bridges are exposed to cold weather above and below, and gets colder quicker.
“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,” says Tuan.
The cost savings should be enough to get many state and local governments to perk up. De-icing the Roca Spur Bridge during a multi-day storm costs about $250. Using trucks with de-icing chemicals costs much more according to Tuan.
While the technology might not be feasible on every road service, it would work great on sidewalks, driveways and interstate ramps. I bet there are a few million people who are wishing that concrete was ready to go already…
Concrete as an anti-spy tool?
Tuan’s mixture isn’t just good for your driveway. It could also be used for sensitive buildings. If you replace limestone and sand with a mineral called magnetite, the concrete can shield against electromagnetic waves.
“We invite parties that are interested in the technology to go in there and try to use their cellphones,” said Tuan. “And they always receive a no-service message.”
Hell, throw that in your conductive concrete too. Can’t text and drive with no service.