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The roads of the future might be able to de-ice themselves

Here’s a scene from winter on the Capital Beltway, to help you remember what it’s like to drive even in light snow. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Sometime in the near future, you might be able to trek outside in a winter storm without giving road conditions a second thought.

Researchers in Turkey have developed a road material that melts ice on its own. That’s right. No salt, sand or beet juice needed — at least not right away.

Beet it, beet it, beet it, beet it: Then the snow will be defeated (on D.C. roads)

Seda Kizilel and her colleagues at Koç University in Istanbul created the mixture, a sort of salt-infused asphalt, and found that their composite released de-icing salt for two months in a lab setting. They did this by mixing a salt potassium formate with the polymer styrene-butadiene-styrene, a hard rubber, and adding the mixture to bitumen, a primary component of asphalt.

The resulting material, the American Chemical Society said, was just as sturdy as unmodified bitumen, and significantly delayed ice formation.

“We’d like to see what happens in real life situation,” Kizilel said in an interview from Turkey. “On the scientific side there’s still a lot of potential to develop this material further.”

Kizilel, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, said the material released salt for up to 67 days in a petri-dish setting. In the real world, she said, that could translate to several years of durability. The salt would be evenly distributed throughout the pavement, meaning it is continually released even as cars and trucks drive over it, wearing it away.

Still, the material does not eliminate the potential for ice to accumulate on asphalt. The study, supported by Turkish Petroleum Refineries, shows the freezing time of water droplets in a climate-controlled chamber was delayed significantly — by 20 minutes in some instances.

“It will be very useful for the first hours of snowing, or in sudden drop in the temperature,” Kizilel said. “Black ice formation is going to be reduced. Adding salt on the road is still going to be useful.”

Cities might see the material as a welcome innovation, one that could put a dent in their snow removal budgets. New York City spent $130.7 million in fiscal year 2014 to clear the roads, according to city Comptroller Scott Stringer. And Boston spent $40 million on snow removal last winter, more than double the allocated budget. The District, comparatively, has allotted $6.2 million for snow removal this season.

Kizilel says the idea of self de-icing roads has drawn interest in Turkey, China, the Netherlands and elsewhere around the world.

She predicts the first road paved with the composite could appear in the next few years, initially landing in her home country, which, yes, experiences plenty of snow.

More on snow-removal-related innovations:

Could Twitter be as helpful as a snow plow?

Five ways technology can help us cope with blizzards

8 attempts to make shoveling snow easier and more fun