Water freezing damages structures and finances, South Dakota Mines looks for an answer

 South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D. (KOTA)
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 1:51 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - When water freezes, it can damage the integrity of all kinds of infrastructure ranging from roads and bridges to homes and skyscrapers.

During colder times, when the ground freezes, pockets of trapped ice expand. When it eventually thaws, it weakens the settlement. This cycle of freezing and thawing damages structures, and requires billions of dollars to be dedicated to mitigation and repair costs.

A team from South Dakota Mines received $450,000 of funding from the National Science Foundation to look for an answer.

“We are trying to understand more about the fundamentals of ice formation underground and if there are natural methods that we can use to stop or control the ground from freezing,” says Tejo V. Bheemasetti, Ph.D, assistant professor who’s on the team.

The team also has biologists on board who are studying microorganisms that live in cold environments that release antifreeze proteins, which keep them alive in bitter conditions. They hope these organisms may lead to an environmentally safe way to treat the threat the cold poses to infrastructure.

Right now, these tests remain in the lab where they can be controlled. Bheemasetti says these natural antifreezes might work with different types of soil, which “might have more applications than just protecting infrastructure.”

It’s a three-year long project, and the team is already underway. If things head in the right direction, the next step would be longer-term field tests in a more real-world environment.

“The solutions are there, the exact path uncertain, but it’s exciting to be taking these first steps,” says Bheemasetti.

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