Road heating system: getting through winter safely.

From 2017 on, a dynamic road heating system will be tested. The objective is to find out if it makes motorways safer during winter instead of just relying on road salt and snow ploughing services.

Die Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen will von 2017 an erste Tests mit Asphaltheizungen für Autobahnen durchführen. Photo: Pixabay

From 2017 on, the Federal Highway Research Institute wants to perform first tests with road heating systems for motorways. (Picture: Pixabay)

Will heating systems for driveways work against icy grounds? This isn’t just an utopian dream. In Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, not only the roads get heated, but also footpaths. Certainly, the Vikings have an advantage: They can rely on an almost inexhaustible supply of geothermal energy, which is – on top of that – easily accessible.

Road heating with geothermal energy

Unfortunately, there are not so many geysers in Central Europe. However, the Federal Highway Research Institute now wants to try a similar pilot experiment in Germany. For testing the effects of a road heating system, they will construct a test track next to the busy motorways junction at Cologne East. It will be mounted true to the original and shall reveal which impact has the technology in case of black ice and snowfall.

Like the original in Iceland, the pilot experiment by the German researchers is driven by geothermal energy. Warm groundwater from lower strata is pumped into a tubular circulation system under the asphalt. By this technology, the streets shall stay ice-free even in times of snowfall and minus temperatures. One of the side effects: The system can also be used to cool the asphalt in case of extreme heat, which – besides the cooling effect – could also prevent road damages.

Costs and environmental aspects

The construction and operating costs of a road heating system could pay off: It’s not only about the fuel consumption or acquisition and maintenance costs of snow-clearing vehicles. In addition, the usage of road salt and de-icing chemicals are not only expensive, but also polluting.

The two-kilometre test track will also be used for other experiments. Among others, different sorts of asphalt pavements shall be tested for their suitability. Also sensors, that give early warnings about bridge damages will be checked. According to the initial estimates, the installation of the test track will cost 6.8 million Euros. In the beginning, drivers won’t see anything out of it, as the track isn’t opened to public traffic.

Read more: Winter’s comeback: 3 tips for road safety


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