Editor’s Notebook: Next Gen Deicers
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Editor’s Notebook: Next Gen Deicers

In search of a safe and effective alternative to rock salt, researchers believe the animal world can inspire innovations in ice mitigation products.

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For decades, rock salt has been the main tool snow fighters employ to manage and mitigate ice buildup on pavement surfaces. It’s ideal because rock salt is relatively cheap and – with a little heat and moisture – it’s highly effective.

However, rock salt has been generating headlines lately for its negative impact on the environment. Most notably, rock salt has been linked to rising salinity levels in freshwater bodies, which poses a risk to aquatic inhabitants. As a result, the race is on to find more a next-generation deicer that is environmentally conscious, yet cost-effective. In addition to integrating brine to reduce salt use in ice mitigation practices, researchers and industry innovators have sought more unique alternatives, such as beet juice, fermentation castoffs, and exotic compounds.

However, scientists now are taking cues from the animal world. Researchers have known insects and spiders native to Alaska create antifreeze proteins that lower the freezing point of water by a few degrees and allows them to survive frigid temps. Similarly, some fish create antifreeze proteins that prohibits their blood from freezing in extreme climates.

Unfortunately, outside the body these antifreeze proteins break down quickly, making them ineffective and impractical for snow and ice management.  

However, researchers at the University of Denver recently reported they’re working on a synthetic version of these antifreeze proteins known as polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). According to the researchers, PVA is a simple, inexpensive compound that is nontoxic to humans and aquatic life. In fact, it’s found in everyday personal care products. It also doesn’t degrade quickly, which makes it more practical as a spray-on ice mitigation tool or as a coating to other deicing substance.

To make it applicable for snow and ice management, though, research must first engineer PVA to be more like the antifreeze proteins utilized in the animals that endure in extremely cold habitats. No timetable was given for when this next generation ice mitigation product will be ready for testing or available to the commercial snow and ice industry.

CLICK HERE to read the original article and to learn more about the science behind this ice mitigation concept.