Keeping Runways Ice-Free With Solar Power

Keeping ice off runways is an expensive, time-consuming affair for airports in cold climates. It’s usually done with chemicals or with thermal, microwave, or electric systems that require a good deal of energy. Now a team of engineers at the University of Arkansas led by Ernie Heymsfield are in the process of developing a solar-powered solution.

The new system involves coupling a special heat-conductive concrete with a bank of batteries that are charged via photovoltaic cells (solar panels). In a model designed to test their system, ice melted from the conductive concrete much faster than from controls – but there was one small glitch: the heat-flow across the conductive concrete was uneven, and it was much hotter near the electrodes. Heymsfield claims that this limitation might be overcome through better configuration of the electrodes.

The idea itself sounds intriguing, but the cost-benefit equation may work against it as it will need to save a lot of electricity and manpower to justify the cost of resurfacing existing runways.