Futuristic self-warming concrete could end winter woes

Researchers have developed a type of concrete that can warm itself when temperatures fall in order to melt off snow and ice. Credit: Drexel University

Imagine a future where icy sidewalks and roads clear themselves of snow and ice without the need for shoveling, salting, or scraping.

This might sound like a scene from a sci-fi novel, but researchers at Drexel University are turning it into reality.

At a quiet spot next to a parking lot on the university campus, two slabs of concrete have been silently fighting off the winter’s worst for over three years, showcasing a new way to keep our walkways and roads safe in the cold.

Developed by the clever minds in Drexel’s College of Engineering, this self-heating concrete could revolutionize how we deal with winter weather.

The United States spends billions annually on snow and ice removal, not to mention the cost of repairing damage caused by winter to our roads.

This innovative concrete could save a lot of money and effort by keeping surfaces clear of ice and snow, naturally.

The secret behind this magic concrete is a special ingredient called low-temperature liquid paraffin. Paraffin is a type of material that releases heat as it changes from liquid to solid at cold temperatures. By adding this ingredient to concrete, the Drexel team has created a surface that warms up on its own when it gets cold outside.

The researchers tested their invention by making two concrete slabs with paraffin in different ways and comparing them to a regular concrete slab. They watched these slabs through two winters, noting how well they could melt snow and prevent ice from forming.

Their findings?

The paraffin-treated slabs stayed warm enough to melt snow and avoid freezing, keeping their surface temperature cozy between 42 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 10 hours in cold air.

One slab, made with paraffin-soaked pebbles mixed into the concrete, was particularly good at staying warm for longer periods.

The other, containing tiny capsules of paraffin mixed directly into the concrete, heated up faster but didn’t keep the warmth as long. Despite their differences, both types showed promise in reducing the need for salting and could make roads and walkways safer in snowy weather.

However, there’s still room for improvement. The researchers noticed that in very heavy snow or when it gets extremely cold without a break, the concrete’s ability to melt snow lessens.

They’re looking into ways to help the concrete “recharge” its warming ability faster between cold spells.

This research isn’t just about making winter less of a headache for everyone. It’s also about creating roads and sidewalks that last longer and are safer to use, no matter the weather.

While the Drexel team continues to refine their self-warming concrete, their work already offers a glimpse at a future where the cold months might not seem so daunting, thanks to the ground beneath our feet keeping us safe from slips and falls.