Donate to Science & Enterprise

S&E on Mastodon

S&E on LinkedIn

S&E on Flipboard

Please share Science & Enterprise

Airport Runway De-Icing System Developed with Solar Panels

Liverpool Airport landing (ChronowerX_GT/Flickr)Engineering researchers at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville are developing an anti-icing system that could make airport runways safer and less expensive to maintain during winter months. The team led by civil engineering professor Ernie Heymsfield are now testing components of the system at the university’s Engineering Research Center in south Fayetteville.

The approach uses a conventional photovoltaic system with solar panels to supply energy to a conductive concrete slab that functions as a surface overlay on runways. Energy conducted through the slabs allows the slabs to continually maintain temperatures above freezing and thus prevent accumulation of snow and ice.

Airports have various pavement de-icing methods, including chemical, thermal, electric and microwave, but these methods are expensive because they rely on grid power or require a high number of airport personnel. Since 1978, however, frozen precipitation has contributed to some 100 accidents and incidents on U.S. runways involving jet or turboprop aircraft weighing more than 5,600 pounds.

While many U.S. airports can keep snow and ice from accumulating on runways, this effort comes with a high price tag. Heymsfield says the St. Paul, Minnesota airport “budgets approximately $4 million annually for snow removal. For various reasons, including the fact that it is grid-energy independent, our system could put a huge dent in this budget.”

The system devised by the Arkansas team consists of concrete slabs with two layers above the existing soil and a gravel base. The bottom layer — the first layer above the gravel base — is a 20-foot by 24-foot base slab with no conductive properties. Above the base slab is a surface layer that consists of twelve overlay panels, each 4 feet by 10 feet.

Ten of these second-layer panels are made with a special concrete mix that conducts heat much like a cast-iron skillet exposed to a stove burner. Two control panels made of conventional concrete mix provide a basis for comparison to the conductive panels.

A separate photovoltaic system supplies DC power to electrodes embedded in the conductive concrete panels. The photovoltaic system includes an array of cells that convert sunlight into energy, a battery storage bank, and a regulator to control energy between the array and the batteries.

Energy is transferred from the batteries to the electrodes. The concrete mix’s thermal-mass properties also make it possible for the the slab to absorb large amounts of heat from ambient temperatures, which minimizes the cost of the photovoltaic system.

The system’s early tests showed the conductive panels responded much faster to extreme surface temperature reductions after the researchers applied a thin layer of ice, even though heat flow was  not uniform and concentrated on an area near the energy source. Heymsfield said the non-uniformity and concentration of heat flow will be corrected by modifying the electrode configuration.

The researchers will continue testing the system through the 2011-12 winter season. They plan to present results of the tests at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in January 2012.

Read more: System Being Developed to Watch for Airport Runway Debris

Photo: ChronowerX_GT/Flickr

*     *     *

4 comments to Airport Runway De-Icing System Developed with Solar Panels

  • Hey Sciencebusiness,
    Very interesting, Beneath an airport runway is there an underground heating system which melts ice and snow
    I look forward to your next post

  • Thanks for your comment and readership of Science Business. We post a few items, including those on solar power R&D most business days. – Alan

  • Topher

    As a former resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and a current airline pilot in the Northeast, I’m wondering if the researchers accounted for the reduced sunlight and shorter days I not to mention the horrible snow that might cover solar panels in the Northeastern part of the country. Seems like a wind generating system would be more beneficial due to the fact that when it snows, and for much of the winter up here in general, it’s usually windy not sunny when you need a system like this.

  • Thanks for your perspective and readership of Science Business. That’s a good point. I assume Ernie Heymsfield and colleagues will test the system during the winter. In addition to wind energy, they may also want to consider more advanced solar heating technologies rather than conventional panels; see – Alan