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Electric cement could change winter forever

We could be one step closer to a winter of snow-free sidewalks, roads, airport runways, bridges, and a whole lot more, thanks to some exciting work being done by nanofibre researchers at a Spanish university. They have created a cement that conducts electricity, a breakthrough that opens up a whole range of possible new applications for surface heating and ice prevention. The “cementitious material” was developed at the University of Alicante by incorporating carbon nanofibres in the composition of the cement, carbon being a conductor of electricity.

Covered
Finally finished? With electrified cement melting snow on parking lot surfaces, there’d be no more snow ploughs.

The technology, says a statement from the university, allows the cement to heat as electrical current passes through it. The researchers say that the introduction of the carbonaceous conductive compound does not compromise the durability of the structures themselves, which retain the structural properties of concrete.

The new compound, with its “much more interesting properties,” is versatile. Any existing structure could be coated with a layer of it, say its creators. “Thermal control” could be maintained by applying continuous electrical current, though how that would be done is not explained.

In other words, putting down a layer of the special electrified cement on, say, a parking lot, would eliminate the need for snow ploughs and salt. The same could be true for entire roadbeds, especially sloping ones where ice and cars tend not to mix well. The falling snow would melt on contact with the cement; no ice would form, no more slushy mess to struggle through, no more mile-high snow banks on the perimeter of parking lots, taking until mid-May to melt away.

And unlike those costly electrified driveway systems you can get now, the ones where they lay down the wiring and then pave it over (at great cost), this new system, we are guessing, would be relatively inexpensive.

The technology allows buildings’ premises to heat or prevents the formation of ice on infrastructure, such as highways, railways, roads, airstrips and other elements.

Pedro Garcés, University of Alicante

It could have even more important applications on airport runways, and on bridges, for example, and in other infrastructure, where the prevention of ice and snow buildup is a concern, like building roofs.

And it looks like it will have indoor applications as well. The researchers are conducting trials to test the technology in plaster embedded with the carbonaceous materials. According to the university, the preliminary results are “very satisfactory,” showing that the plaster can be heated with minimum energy consumption. The researchers do not say how hot the material becomes, or whether it could be used for ambient heat in a room. Could it be used in other materials, like ceramic tiles, for bathroom floors, perhaps?

The development of nanofibre technology has opened other new research areas in concrete. The shortcomings of traditional cement have long been known. Deterioration of cement-based materials in civil infrastructure costs billions of dollars every year. But nanofibre technology holds out much promise for finally making possible a whole range of improvements needed to make cement materials more durable—improvements in strength, elasticity, resistance to shrinkage, decreased permeability (for corrosion resistance in reinforced concrete) and cold resistance.

Researchers at Northwestern University have been studying the use of carbon nanofibres principally for their usefulness in increasing the flexural strength of cement. Early work indicates that including carbon nanotubes in cement can significantly help to prevent cracking.

Microcracks typically form throughout cement when it is subject to load, the researchers say. These microcracks then coalesce to form large “macrocracks.” The carbon nanofibres have been shown to interfere with the coalescing of the microcracks, thus preventing large cracks from developing.

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