In the U.S., road crews scatter about 137 pounds of salt per person annually to melt ice. That equals out to about 22 million tons of salt every year. After it dissolves, the remaining sodium and chloride ions get carried away by water and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes, river, and so on) and the groundwater under our feet.
This obviously has a dramatic impact on the environment.
Now, in a study published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, researchers from Koc University in Turkey assert that they have created road material that delays the formation of ice, which could significantly lower the danger of icy roads and aid motorists driving during winter…and possibly decrease our reliance on salt.
Learn more about why we use salt on our roads in this video, featuring Phil Hultin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Manitoba. Here, he explains how road salt, which is essentially table salt, melts ice:
To achieve the material, scientists use potassium formate mixed in a styrene-butadiene-styrene polymer with bitumen, which is a major component of asphalt. When tested in lab settings, the material shows how it can effectively delay the formation of ice on the surface as it maintains its sturdy shape, as opposed to typical road surfaces.
When applied to real roads, the mixture can spread out evenly across the asphalt, where vehicles driving over it can allow the mixture to release slowly and keep the roads ice free.
The American Chemical Society notes that the new surface was able to release de-icing salt over a two month period in controlled conditions, but they believe that the technology could last longer when applied on real roads.
Should the new material be approved for mass adoption, not only will the technology provide immeasurable benefits for motorists by improving road safety, it also helps local governments mitigate and manage resources typically dedicated to clearing roads over winter as well as ease road congestion of streets and roads—ultimately allowing municipalities to save money.
The goal now is for the bitumen composite to be made commercially available by first ensuring that the same effects are achieved in real-world testing.