CBS Local — Could the sight of big plows pushing snow off wintry roads become a thing of the past? Researchers at Drexel University have found what they’re describing as the secret ingredient to make roads melt ice and snow all by themselves.

According to the scientists, adding paraffin wax to the concrete mix makes the road surface capable of melting the wintry mix much faster than normal roads. An assistant professor at Drexel’s College of Engineering says paraffin oil is known as a phase change material (PCM) in chemistry. The substance stores energy and can release it as heat when roads need melting.

“By inhibiting the formation of ice and snow on the pavement or bridge surface, the use of PCM may reduce or eliminate the need for deicing chemicals/salts, snowplowing or both — thus saving money and positively influencing the environmental impact of such operations,” professor Yaghoob Farnam said.

Paraffin is commonly found in candles, wax polishes, cosmetics, and water-proofing products. The engineers reportedly chose it for their experiments because it is organic, widely available, and very inexpensive.

While the new formula for ice-free roads seems promising, other scientists are pointing out the difficulty of getting long-time road builders to change their ways.

“A new concrete formulation needs very, very thorough field testing before contractors would dare to use it, because there are liability issues,” Deborah Chung, engineering professor at the SUNY University at Buffalo said. “To get a new concrete to be accepted by contractors, it’s a long haul.”


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