Drexel University researches alternative to road salt

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

From the Poconos to the Jersey Shore to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, what do you want to know about climate change? What would you like us to cover? Get in touch.

The Philadelphia region faces a second round of heavy snow on Friday, sending crews out to salt the roads.

Road salt and deicing chemicals prevent roads and sidewalks from becoming slippery, keeping drivers and pedestrians safe.

However, these measures can have negative impacts to road structures, and the environment.

Chlorine-based salt, for instance, can chemically react with concrete, and essentially eat the road from the inside out. The freezing and thawing process also can damage roads.

However, researchers at Drexel University say they may have a solution. A team of scientists have developed a type of concrete that can release heat to melt snow and ice. After three years of testing, they say it could be an effective way to reduce road salt use. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation uses an average of more than 800,000 tons of salt during the winter.

“This salt can interact with roads and create a lot of potholes, or, it can be destructive to the roads,”  said researcher Amir Farnam, an engineering professor at Drexel University. “And [then] we need to repair and maintain our roads. So, this can create a lot of financial burden in the state.”

Farnam said the idea for his project came from architecture that incorporates concrete slabs that store thermal energy to heat buildings.

Drexel’s technology works by absorbing solar thermal energy when the weather is warm, and releasing heat when there’s snow and ice.

  • January 19, 2024
  • Articles,
  • This post was written by