If you drive in places where the temperature drops below freezing on a regular basis, you'll know all about the danger of icy roads - a danger that's not always easy to accurately predict or compensate for. In an effort to make wintry motoring easier for the average driver, scientists in Turkey have been working on a new surface material that could effectively de-ice itself.
The team from Koç University has developed a road material that delays the formation of ice. Starting with a salt potassium formate, the researchers mixed in a styrene-butadiene-styrene polymer and added the mixture to bitumen - a major component of asphalt. When tested in the lab, it "significantly" delayed ice formation when compared with a regular road surface, they report, while at the same time remaining just as sturdy as unmodified bitumen.
According to the American Chemical Society, the new composite was able to release de-icing salt over a period of two months, but the effects could last even longer when used on real roads. With the salt-polymer composite spread out evenly through the asphalt, the pressure of cars and trucks wearing away the road would slowly release the mixture and keep the surface ice-free - perhaps even for several years at a time.
Of course, it wouldn't just be drivers who would benefit. Local authorities have to spend money and use up other resources clearing roads during the winter, not just once, but time and time again if the conditions persist. A road surface that de-ices itself would take these gritting lorries off the streets, easing congestion and saving funds for local governments.
"Salt can be easily removed by rain or automobiles and requires frequent application on roads," notes the team. "Besides this economic consideration, anti-icing agents compromise the mechanical properties of asphalt and have a negative impact on living organisms and the environment when used in large amounts."
If the new bitumen composite can be made commercially viable and replicate the same effects in real-world testing, driving in snowy or freezing cold conditions might soon be a lot less hazardous than it currently is. It's not the only innovation potentially coming to our streets, though: other teams of researchers are busy working on embedding solar panels, recycled plastic and car recharging capabilities into the road surfaces of tomorrow.
The study has been published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.