The Texas Department of Transportation awarded Xinbao Yu, civil engineering associate professor, a grant to develop geothermal bridge de-icing technology to improve bridge safety in winter weather conditions.
In October, the Texas Department of Transportation awarded Yu a $110,000 grant as part of an ongoing project. Yu’s research seeks to develop a new method of bridge de-icing that is environmentally friendly and sustainable using geothermal energy. Yu’s aim is to prevent incidents like the accident caused by bad road conditions on I-35 that left six people dead and 65 injured.
The grant serves to further Yu’s ongoing research to develop a prototype of the geothermal de-icing method that satisfies the safety and environmental standards of the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Our objective is to design a revised geothermal de-icing heating system able to provide new bridge de-icing methods for TXDOT to safely remove any ice and snow on the bridges using geothermal energy,” Yu said.
Yu’s method consists of a system of pipes looping underneath the bridge. The pipes will be filled with a mixture of glycol, a type of antifreeze and water. Portions of the pipe system will be situated above ground while the rest of the system will be buried 400 feet down. The heat pump will serve to circulate the fluid mixture. The flow of the solution to these depths would allow the liquid within the pipes to collect enough geothermal energy to warm a bridge.
Traditional methods of de-icing are labor-intensive, but Yu’s geothermal method is planned to function autonomously and requires less maintenance.
Yu and his research team have been working on this project since 2015 and are nearing the final stage of development, said Omid Habibzadeh-Bigdarvish, civil engineering graduate student and research assistant. The project has gone through two iterations so far, he said. The prototype will be reviewed by the Texas Department of Transportation at the end of March for widespread use on existing infrastructure.
The creation of the bridge has been a collaborative effort between Yu’s research team and input from the Texas Department of Transportation bridge engineers.
Habibzadeh-Bigdarvish said initially their design impaired the engineers’ ability to inspect the bridges, so they had to adjust the insulation method for their project.
“At every four [inches] we have an exposed bottom surface and we have our insulated channel,” Habibzadeh-Bigdarvish. “In that way, we can give TXDOT this chance to inspect the bridges from the bottom surface and at the same time we have a system that works as previously.”
Yu also hopes to reduce the environmental impact of bridge de-icing.
Gang Lei, civil engineering graduate research assistant, said traditional methods of de-icing can negatively impact existing road infrastructure and the surrounding environment.
“There are some negative impacts, especially the chemical de-icers,” Lei said. “It will damage the bridge deck, pavements or cause the erosion and the reduction of concrete or bedrock, and the runoff of the salts will contaminate adjacent soils.”
Damage caused by chemical de-icers adds to the cost of maintaining the existing infrastructure, Habibzadeh-Bigdarvish said.
The research team is working hard to develop the technology for the next phase, Yu said.
“Whatever can better impact the transportation network can greatly impact people's lives,” Habibzadeh-Bigdarvish said.