Volume X / 2021
The University of Texas at Arlington | College of Engineering
Illustration of the ice-free bridge

Keeping Bridges Ice-Free

Illustration of the ice-free bridge
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A geothermal de-icing system designed by Xinbao Yu, associate professor of civil engineering, and Anand Puppala, a former UTA professor, kept a test bridge mostly clear of snow and ice during the sub-freezing winter storm in Dallas-Fort Worth last February. Now, the duo will install the system on an in-service bridge to see how it performs under operational conditions.

“Moving forward, we hope to prove that this technology is ready for large-scale use,” Dr. Yu says. “We need to test our system’s performance under operational conditions—not just snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, but also traffic, drainage, snowplows, and other factors that we can’t replicate on our mock-up.”

On new bridges with geothermal de-icing systems, heating fluid pumps through a closed-loop circulation pipe to bring thermal energy from the ground to the surface. One end of the pipe attaches to the bridge deck to melt ice and snow before it can stick to the surface.

Installing similar systems on the underside of existing bridges adds challenges, especially when it comes to ensuring heat goes to the bridge deck, not to the air. Because the UTA system is modular, it is scalable to meet the demands of each particular bridge, which could include differing spans and numbers of lanes.