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Electrified Runways May Help Winter Take-Offs

Electrified Runways May Help Winter Take-Offs
Jennifer Billock

Flights at Des Moines International Airport are taking a roll down Electric Avenue – on the runways.

Thanks to ingenious engineering at Iowa State University, flights at Des Moines International Airport in Iowa are able to skip icy runways in the wintertime, at least on a small test patch. Professor Halil Ceylan led a team to create a material for runways that melts ice and snow on its own – eliminating the need to try and get rid of the chilly stuff manually.

The material is electrically conducive concrete.

“Each slab is 7.5 inches thick (19 cm), and consists of two layers,” Ben Coxworth reported for the New Atlas. “The bottom 4-inch (10-cm) layer is made up of regular concrete, while the top layer consists of 1 percent carbon fiber combined with a special mix of cement, sand and rocks. Sandwiched between those layers are six electrodes (per slab) that are hard-wired to a power supply in a nearby hangar.”

The thawing concrete is activated by an app, which triggers the electrodes to send a current through the top layer of concrete. The carbon fiber makes the rock conductive, but provides enough resistance to create some heat that then melts the ice or snow. The surface of the concrete never gets too hot to touch, though.

The test patch is two slabs of the concrete next to each other, each measuring 15 by 13.5 feet, and it uses about $.19 operating cost per square meter over seven hours of operation time. Another material using steel shavings and carbon particles has been in testing with the Federal Aviation Administration as well.

[Photo: Iowa State University]

View Comments (4)


  1. Centurion

    April 3, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Bad concept. Why not circulate hot water underneath runway just like they do in expensive homes in the kitchen,bathroom, driveway, walkways. Hot water is often a byproduct of Co Generation where an airport burns natural gas in a turbine or regular internal combustion engine to save on electricity cost. So you have free hot water and you only need a small pump to circulate the water which needs to be cooled anyhow.

  2. rylan

    April 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    A lot higher capital investment and infrastructure to lay water pipes in concrete… plus whenever you have pipes it is guaranteed to eventually leak. Not to mention what happens when you need to do normal runway repairs.

    This method described using carbon fiber would make it relatively simply to maintain and repair compared to other heating methods. Still early in development so have to see how it works out.
    For that operating cost I’d want to have a driveway made of the stuff. Cheaper than hiring a plow or having to shovel.

  3. sama

    April 4, 2017 at 1:12 am

    If we are constantly complaining about the pollution what the airline industry is making, is this really the correct solution? Runways are not short paths like homes and some public building entrances where you can use the electricity for heating. Power loss is huge on these things.

    This is how it should be done… Like on the song “let it snow”

  4. Sydneyberlin

    April 4, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Who’s ‘constantly complaining about the pollution the airline industry is making? Not me- and I haven’t heard this ‘complaint’ too often on this site either!

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