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Students Research Ways to 'De-Ice' Roads

Civil engineering students to provide research results to Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Tim Krohn, Mankato Free Press, 2-24-2014

Thursday's blizzard was fortuitous for a Minnesota State University, Mankato research team.

Steve Druschel, associate professor of civil engineering, and students Tony Adderley and Danielle Alinea were under the North Star Bridge collecting samples of murky road melt from the highway above.

“This is a perfect storm for our tests,” said Druschel, who is leading research on the best times and ways for Minnesota Department of Transportation drivers to lay down anti-icing liquid solutions and salt to get the most effective snow removal and highest safety for motorists.

Druschel and students did a 2010 project for MnDOT that looked at 25 combinations of salts, looking for which are most effective.

Druschel said finding the most cost-effective way to use chemicals is increasingly important. Rock salt, delivered in the summer off season, sells for about $80 a ton, but the price has risen to as much as $250 in some places recently because of shortages.

Alinea, a junior, said the real-life research has been a help. “I’m getting a good perspective of designing an experiment and how much work it takes.”

Adderley, a senior, had previous experience on a project Druschel led that looked at ways to reduce flooding on the Zumbro River.

“I really liked that study because we went to town hall meetings and presented studies to people. I learned a lot from that,” Adderley said.

He hopes to work in environmental water resources when he graduates.

Alinea hopes to work with water, too, albeit a different type. “I like wastewater,” she said of her desire to work in wastewater management.

Besides salt, highway crews also in recent years began using magnesium chloride, a greenish liquid that is sprayed on pavement prior to storms.

“The liquid is good and it helps. But it can cost up to twice as much and you’re not getting double the melting for the price,” Druschel said.

He said his studies are looking at the price of the product, the number of vehicles needed to apply it and the effectiveness to come up with the most efficient methods.

The current research is looking at the best times to apply different chemicals to the roads and how different types of traffic affect ice and snow.

“One thing we’re seeing is that the big trucks squeeze a lot of water out of the snow. The different types of traffic affect it differently.”

The team placed large plastic barrels under the North Star Bridge, which carries Highway 169 over the Minnesota River. Drains from the roadway funnels runoff into the barrels for collection and analysis of salt content.

The team also set up time-lapse highway cameras so they can view the amount of traffic and type of traffic — semis vs. cars and pickups.

At the end of winter, they will use that information, weather information and records from MnDOT to determine what types of chemicals were put down on the bridge when to analyze what worked best.

“It’s been a great winter to test things. We have so much data. We just want to collect as much as we can and we’ll sort it out in the spring,” Druschel said.

One thing they will look for is the best time to apply the liquid pre-treatments to pavement. “It’s there to keep the snow from binding to the pavement. If you put it on too soon (before a storm), it’s not as effective.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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