Electrified Airport Concrete
Credit: Courtesy of Halil Ceylan

Every winter, icy and snowy runways cause hundreds of delays — or even cancelations — at airports across the country. But researchers at Iowa State may have discovered a new way for airports to keep runways completely free of ice and snow.

A team at the university, led by Professor Halil Ceylan, developed an electrically conductive concrete that melts snow and ice on contact. The system was installed as a test at Des Moines International Airport in March.

The electrified concrete is made up of three different layers: The bottom-most layer is four inches of regular concrete. The middle layer has electrodes connected to a power supply in a nearby hangar. The top layer is a mixture of one percent carbon fiber, cement, sand and rocks.

Electrified Airport Concrete
Credit: Courtesy of Iowa State University

The system is connected to an app that airport officials can turn on when a winter storm approaches. When the system is activated, the electrodes begin producing an electrical current, which is conducted through the top layer to create a heated surface on the ground.

It’s warm enough to melt away snow and ice, but cool enough to touch.

Researchers will also soon add a “hydrophobic” coating to the system to repel any water on contact.

“Our goal is to keep airports open, safe and accessible,” Ceylan said in a statement. “We don’t want any slips or falls, or any aircraft skidding off runways. Our technologies can contribute to providing a safe environment and fewer delays.”

The study is part of a large research initiative led by the Federal Aviation Administration. Researchers will continue testing the system at other parts of Des Moines airport before determining whether or not to install electric concrete at other airports around the country.