The US Army is developing a low-cost, non-corrosive, chlorine-free deicer to protects its vehicles and equipment from road salt damage. And if successful, the new deicer would not only save taxpayers billions of dollars, but also provide a replacement for chloride-based deicing products for the commercial snow and ice management industry.
The new chemical technology, being developed in partnership with Richland, Wash.-based OCOchem, is intended to protect military base roads, vehicles, and the environment; and could potentially save U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
OCOchem has developed a cost-effective process to create non-corrosive potassium formate deicer using inexpensive, and recycled carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, water, potassium sulfate, and clean electricity. While other potassium formate deicers exist and are used widely from airports to home use, they are made from fossil fuels. OCOchem's process greatly reduces the price by using abundant recycled CO2.
In August, OCOchem built the first large scale prototype-scale mobile Carbon Flux Electrolyzer that produces potassium formate in a ready-to-use liquid brine formulation for use as a corrosion-free deicer. The formate electrolyzer can fit on the back of a military vehicle, making it directly accessible to bases throughout the world.
In addition to save taxpayers more than $100 billion per year through reduced corrosion, maintenance, and replacement costs currently caused by using chloride-based deicers, this technology, according to OCOchem estimates, also:
- Enhances supply chain resilience and reduce logistics costs and risks by allowing the new deicing chemicals to be made on-site at U.S. military bases
- Lowers potassium formate costs by more than 30%, enabling expanded use
- Creates a shorter and more resilient U.S.-only supply chain that does not rely on chemicals imported from abroad. Potassium formate would be produced on-site using OCOchem's Carbon Flux Electrolyzerm and U.S.-sourced recycled CO2, water, and potassium sulfate
- Reduces environmental and water supply contamination and salination by reducing chloride salt-based deicer runoff
- Reduces CO2 emissions by capturing and recycling CO2 from on-base emission sources, such as diesel generators, natural gas turbines, and heaters
- Reduces overall CO2 emissions by more than 100 million tons per year in the United States (2% of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions) if traditional rock salt deicers are entirely replaced with this approach.
Once produced to scale – and if adopted broadly for military and commercial use – the new deicer could replace the use of chloride-based deicing salts and save state and local governments more than $100 billion in annual corrosion-related road, bridge and equipment maintenance costs, as well as help safeguard the environment and water supplies from chloride contamination.
U.S. military facilities throughout the world rely on deicers to keep their bases operational and mission ready 24/7. However, the most common de-icing chemicals used today, due to their historically lower costs, are chloride-based salts. These salts, though, have been linked to infiltration and damage to the surrounding environment and infrastructure after they are applied, dissolved, and dispersed, said OCOchem’s Todd Brix, co-founder and chief executive, in a statement.
For example, in 2016, corrosion cost the U.S. Department of Defense nearly $21 billion in 2011, according to a report issued by the General Accounting Office. Beyond the U.S. Army and Department of Defense, the annual estimated economic cost of the negative effects of chloride-based de-icing chemicals exceeds $100 billion in the civilian economy of the United States. It is also the primary cause of the $561 billion the United States spends annually on addressing corrosion issues, according to NACE International.
"The potential impact of this novel lower-cost carbon-neutral deicing manufacturing process delivers a triple benefit to national defense readiness, civilian customers, and the environment," Brix said. "We are excited to continue our efforts to further scale our formate electrolyzer technology to a commercial-ready system for the U.S. Army so that the new low-cost corrosion-free deicer can be used at U.S. military bases throughout the world and be deployed in the civilian sector to more affordably enhance safe travel and to protect and extend the longevity of our natural and built environment."
Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine.