ORNL develops new tool to help treat roads for ice, snow

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) - A winter wonderland can be a beautiful sight in East Tennessee, but it can also cause a mess on the roads.

Across the country, about $1.5 billion is spent to maintain roads in the winter. Each state incurs between $300 million and $600 million in indirect costs because of things like business closures.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation budgets almost $8 million a year in our region to clean it all up.

A team at ORNL has developed something they think will lighten that load.

"As the snow truck is driving around the city it's measuring the GPS location and automatically determines how much road chemicals should be applied to the road segment," Senior Research Scientist Femi Omitaomu explained.

They demonstrated with water acting as the salt brine used to pretreat roads.

When attached to a truck, the computer on the apparatus reads the GPS location and uses information plugged into it to determine how much salt brine to put down.

If that stretch of road gets a lot of sun, the system will put down less salt brine. On a hill or shady spot it will put down more salt brine, automatically adjusting the flow along the way.

"It's not only going to save money, but it's going to make the current resources go further so that is our current objective. If you have $100,000 to spend and you can only treat 100 miles of road, can that $100,000 go further and treat $200,000 worth of roads," Omitaomu said.

They used Knoxville and Knox County data for their research saying with their invention, the city could be able to treat 30 to 40 percent more roads.

"If they have enough budget that can buy more salt or chemicals then they can treat all the roads, but we all know that is not a feasible solution," Omitaomu said.

The new technology does need some more testing on trucks before it can be produced for the masses, but the researchers say one day they hope to see it become a common way to help the snow removal process.

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