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New laser technology could help clear up icy roads in the winter

Winter is coming in the Northern hemisphere, and for many colder places that means the arrival of snow and ice – always a hazard for drivers and pedestrians alike. However, new research published in Applied Spectroscopy Reviews suggests an improved, safer method for dealing with dangerous icy roads.

Researchers have detected a substance known as hydrohalite that forms on icy roads and can be very problematic for drivers. Because it does not respond to de-icing or road surface salting, hydrohalite usually stays on the road. Although it isn’t visible to the naked eye, this substance presents a major threat to all drivers if left untreated.

In order to test for a solution to removing hydrohalite, Dr. Rolf W. Berg – associate professor in the Technical University of Denmark’s Department of Chemistry – and colleagues recreated the conditions under which hydrohalite forms. During their experiments, they found that this substance can be easily detected by using Raman instruments, which are small laser devices that can identify the structure of a molecule and the presence of a substance.

If Raman instruments were installed in salt-spreading trucks and snow plows, either an automated system or the driver would be able to determine where the substance needs to be removed. In doing so, they could switch to a more appropriate de-icer for hydrohalite removal, which would consist of one mixed with sand and gravel.

“Equipping salt-spreading trucks with Raman detectors – essentially small boxes which would sit underneath the vehicles – would be a relatively straightforward solution,” says Berg, “potentially reducing the number of road traffic accidents and even saving lives.”

With millions of car accidents occurring in the U.S. alone each year, finding ways to improve road safety and thus decrease accidents is always a welcome area of study.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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