01/25/2016 15:15 EST

Futuristic 'De-Icing' Concrete Could Help Make Roads Safer In The Next Big Blizzard

The material generates heat to melt snow and ice.

Scott Schrage/University Communications
Dr. Chris Tuan stands on a slab of conductive concrete that can carry enough electrical current to melt ice during winter storms.

A new form of concrete created by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a fascinating superpower that could potentially save lives.

The concrete can melt away ice and snow on its own, making roadways much safer. What's its secret? Steel shavings and carbon particles, which make up about 20 percent of the concrete mixture, can conduct electricity to melt away dangerous ice, Dr. Chris Tuan, a professor of civil engineering at the university who designed the material, told The Huffington Post on Monday.

"De-icing concrete is intended for icy bridges, street intersections, interstate exit ramps, and where accidents are prone to take place," Tuan said.

The de-icing concrete mixture is not only safe for commuters and pedestrians, but also could potentially help the environment, Tuan said, by reducing the amount of salt and chemicals used to combat ice on the roads.

Chris Tuan and Lim Nguyen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A four-hour time-lapse video shows the conductive concrete melting fresh snow from its surface during a winter storm in Omaha, Nebraska, in December 2015.

The concrete can work on roads by connecting de-icing concrete slabs to a power source, since the material itself is electrically conductive.

"When connected to a power source, the electrical resistance in the concrete will generate heat and propagate to the concrete surface to melt the snow and ice," Tuan explained, adding that the concrete costs about $300 per cubic yard compared to $120 per cubic yard of regular concrete.

The concrete has already been tested on a 150-foot bridge near Lincoln, Nebraska. The bridge was inlaid with 52 slabs of de-icing concrete in 2002, and has successfully melted snow and ice on its own ever since, according to the researchers.

Now, the researchers plan to demonstrate the de-icing concrete technology to the Federal Aviation Administration in hopes that the concrete might be integrated into the tarmac of a major U.S. airport.

"To my surprise, they don't want to use it for the runways," Tuan said in a statement. "What they need is the tarmac around the gated areas cleared, because they have so many carts to unload -- luggage service, food service, trash service, fuel service -- that all need to get into those areas ... They said that if we can heat that kind of tarmac, then there would be (far fewer) weather-related delays."

He added: "We're very optimistic."

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