116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Tuesday's slick conditions with delays to flights, schools and travel provide an ideal backdrop to daydream about a world where ice didn't build up on runways, roads and sidewalks.
Researchers at Iowa State University are studying whether they can prevent such dangerous conditions through pavement-related technology, such as electric heat, hydronic systems, and ice-resistant treatment. So far results are promising, said Halil Ceylan, an ISU professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering,
The focus of the research is on airport runways, but the technology could be applicable to other surfaces, he said.
'If you consider the winter operations and the tens of thousands of flights taking place, I believe we can significantly cut down those delays,” Ceylan said. 'Lost time and lost resources, we can prevent those things by taking advantage of new technologies.”
About half of the 3,362 delayed flights at Eastern Iowa Airport last year were weather-related, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Ceylan is part of a team of 19 faculty, staff and students studying new technology. They are experimenting on small slabs of pavement in laboratories, but Ceylan said he believes within a year they should be running tests at live airport runways.
Ceylan, who is also director of the Program for Sustainable Pavement Engineering and Research at Iowa State's Institute for Transportation, said he is working with officials from the Des Moines International Airport and Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, among others.
The technologies being studied include:
- Electrically conductive concrete, in which nodes in the pavement receive electric currents that can heat the pavement and melt snow or ice. In one example, a student sent 60 volts of electricity into a small block of concrete, heating its surface from 64 to 189 degrees Fahrenheit in a few minutes.
- Hydronic system, in which copper pipes laid in the pavement circulate hot liquid, heating the pavement from the inside out.
- An application of various nanomaterials that have proved effective in repelling snow or ice from sticking, making it easier to clear. The treatment works by lowering the threshold at which water would freeze to the pavement, Ceylan said.
The study is part of the Federal Aviation Administration's Center of Excellence Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability, or PEGASAS. Researchers at Purdue University, The Ohio State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University are also involved.
ISU is receiving $750,000 through PEGASAS to study ice- and snow-free runways. The schools is providing matching funds for the study.
In addition to proving the solution works, Ceylan said researchers are studying whether it's cost effective, and at this point it appears so. The technology is also more environmentally friendly by reducing the use of salt and de-icers, and has safety benefits for crews called to clear snow and ice in harsh conditions, he said.