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Civil engineer to explore the use of geothermal energy to melt ice from bridges

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office: 817-272-7075, Cell: 214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

News Topics: energy, engineering, transportation, weather

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A team of researchers from The University of Texas at Arlington is exploring ways to use geothermal energy to make bridges and overpasses safer during winter weather.

Xinbao Yu

Xinbao Yu, assistant professor of Civil Engingeering

Xinbao Yu, an assistant professor of civil engineering, is the lead investigator on a 17-month, $193,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation that will determine the feasibility of using geothermal energy to melt ice and snow from Texas roads. Anand Puppala, professor of civil engineering and associate dean of research in the College of Engineering, is co-PI and will work with Yu in exploring geothermal technologies for potential implementation in field projects.

The researchers will evaluate available technology to harness geothermal energy and efficiently use it for de-icing. The process works by pumping groundwater through a circulation pipe to bring thermal energy from the ground to the surface. One end of the circulation pipe is embedded into the bridge deck, which warms to the point where ice and snow melt instead of sticking to the surface.

The technology also could be used to cool road surfaces during summer months, resulting in longer life of the pavement.

“This research shows how UT Arlington engineering faculty can make a real impact on Texans’ daily lives by addressing issues affecting our infrastructure,” said Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering. “While rare, severe winter weather impacts thousands of lives, as well as the economy of our state, by making roads treacherous. His work may give TXDOT a reliable, effective option to keep roads clear and extend their life.”

Below a certain depth, soil temperatures remain at a stable temperature year-round. Soil is a good storage medium, and when heat is introduced it cannot escape.

Geothermal technology is used in Europe and Japan, but is not in widespread use in the United States. Yu, Puppala and their team will look at existing technology, conduct a feasibility study, then use numerical models and computer models to determine the next stage of the project, which will be a field test.

“We need a good understanding of how this system works and how it can best be used in Texas,” Yu said. “Geothermal is very clean energy, and if we can put it to efficient use to make our roads safer, it is beneficial for everyone.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Texas has more than 52,000 bridges, by far the most in the United States.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 48,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

— Written by Jeremy Agor

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.