Rock salt is great at getting the de-icing job done, but it can take a toll on water systems and aquatic life. But new options are in the works. I am a materials scientist seeking solutions for our overly salted sidewalks by analyzing ways in which the natural world deals with ice. Fish, insects, and even some plants have learned to adapt to cold climates over hundreds of thousands of years by making their own antifreeze agents to survive subfreezing temperatures. By taking a page from nature, my colleagues and I hope to develop effective but more benign antifreeze compounds. As many drivers know too well, road salt reduces cars’ lives by speeding up the rusting process . A 2010 study estimated that the use of de-icing salts costs US drivers $23.4 billion dollars nationwide yearly in vehicle damage due to corrosion. As a result, road salts increase existing strains on aging structures. De-icing salts have contributed to bridge failures and cause cracking and other forms of weathering in highway surfaces. De-icing salts have widespread effects in nature, too. If you drive along a forested road after a long snowy winter, you may notice that trees next to the […]

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