Snow is a pain, but this helps

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I’ve pretty much despised snow since walking across George Mason University in Fairfax as a freshman during the blizzards of 2010. That frustration came back to me when I was working remotely after the snow came down in January to start 2018 in bitter, Hampton Roads-cold.

That snow lasted for days and days throughout my neighborhood in Virginia Beach and throughout the seven cities, which is why I’m excited for a Virginia squad that has made some headway on addressing the lingering problems of stagnant ice and snow.

Undergraduate researchers at Virginia Tech have made a breakthrough with the Melt Mat, an invention developed by a senior design team in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering, according to a press release.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

The Melt Mat is a thermally absorptive blanket made from a thin sheet of aluminum and coated in ultra-flat black paint, per the press release. The snow-breaking blanket increases melting rates by threefold without any additional effort or energy input.

Juniors in VT’s engineering science and undergraduate program form senior design teams around ideas suggested by faculty advisors. Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and the team’s faculty advisor, pitched the idea to the students in spring 2016.

“Generally, snow reflects about three-quarters of the sun’s radiation back into the air, so it’s actually really hard for the sun to melt a snowbank,” Boreyko stated in the press release. “Even if temperatures are above freezing and the sun is out, the snow’s surface just bounces most of the heat right off. That’s the fundamental problem we’re trying to address here.”

With Boreyko’s idea as their focus, the team began designing, constructing and experimenting with several scale models. The Melt Mat emerged more than a year later.

The mat’s simple, passive design makes it relatively inexpensive. Its durability prevents degradation, a common problem with other “passive” methods of snow removal, according to the press release, and because it doesn’t rely on antifreeze or other chemicals, it poses no environmental adversity.

Several team members have considered starting a company to market the Melt Mat to those looking to clear residential driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, athletic fields and wherever else snow can accumulate and become burdensome piles.

But for now, the team has a provisional patent and is working towards a full patent, which could lead to licensing agreements and further uses for this new technology.

“When our senior design class had concluded, we felt like we were really on to something,” said Sarah Wray, a senior design team member and one of the study’s co-authors. “We decided to push ourselves further.”

Hopefully this technology makes it to market soon. I’m getting sick and tired of salt and shovels.