Scientists Create Salt-Filled Asphalt To Keep Roads Ice-Free

Dec 31, 2015 12:09 PM EST | John Nassivera

Scientists at Turkey's Koc University have found a new solution to making driving safer on America's roads this winter.

This solution comes in the form of an asphalt mixture that is embedded in salt, which gives roads the ability to de-ice themselves and keep ice from gathering at all, according to Digital Trends.

Roads in the U.S. are covered by some 20 million tons of salt each winter, and the sodium chloride helps keep accidents from happening by melting ice or preventing its formation, the Scientific American noted.

However, road salt comes with trade-offs, as Seda Kizilel, a chemical engineer at Koc University, says it is "mainly corrosive," which affects "vehicles and also nature, plants, microorganisms."

The new compound is aimed at helping people avoid continuously applying ice removal products, as current ones don't stick around for long if they don't work when first applied to roads, mostly due to factors like melting snow and passing cars washing them away. The new road material solves this problem by releasing a de-icing compound in increments. The research team embedded asphalt throughout with de-icer so that each exposed level reveals a new layer of the salt solution, even when the roads experience heavy traffic over time.

Regular road salt is also known to cause damage to the concrete underneath the ice, and the chemicals in more industrial de-icing solutions are dangerous for the environment, Digital Trends reported. To avoid these issues, the team used a compound called salt potassium formate, which has gained approval as an environmentally friendly alternative, and embedded it in a standard asphalt component called bitumen. They also added styrene-butadiene-styrene to keep ice from forming on the surface.

The only potential negative of this new solution is that cars traveling on ice-proof roads with this material may experience some wear and tear on their tires.

However, the compound proved to be able to delay ice formation 10 minutes longer than alternatives in lab trials, according to the Scientific American.

Kizilel noted that salt truck drivers don't have to worry about going out of business due to this solution. "But we're saying that, during the first 10 to 15 minutes, when the road becomes very icy, this material and this release of salt from this function bitumen is going to be very useful and potentially eliminate many accidents on the road," she said.

The team plans on driving on a test surface with the compound, and they believe that car traffic peeling away new layers of the material over time will allow it to work for years when applied to real public roads.

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