June 26th, 2013

Black Sand

Optimize Mobility, by Sarah Stephenson.
What black sand looks like.

What black sand looks like.

UDOT recently tested an innovative product used to help enhance the snow melting process during the clearing of mountain passes in the spring. The material is called “black sand” and was tested near Monte Cristo summit in Weber County as an agent to save future time and money.

Special Crews Supervisor, Kelly Andrew, conducted the study and ran tests, to see how effective the black sand would actually be. The result was extremely positive and indicated this method could save UDOT a significant amount of time in the snow removal process as well as in equipment costs.

Black sand has been a tried and tested method farmers have used for years in order to clear snow from the ground to plant their crops faster, rather than letting it melt on its own. Andrew noticed how effective it had been for them and thought, “Why wouldn’t it work for us on roads?” This led to acquiring the material and testing certain sections of snow to see which areas melted faster, those with black sand or those without.

Loading the black sand

Special Crews Supervisor, Kelly Andrew looks on as workers load the black sand.

So how does it work? Black sand uses solar energy to create heat that in turn helps melt snow faster. Vic Saunders, Region One communications manager, used wearing a black shirt as an example of how the black sand works.

Black Sand 2

Spreading the black sand at Monte Cristo Summit.

“If you were to go outside wearing a dark shirt, you would get warmer than you would wearing a white shirt… the black enhances the melting process because it is absorbing the solar rays rather than reflecting them.” Saunders said.

According to Andrew, the black sand is a fine powder-like substance that was lightly spread with a large snow machine. Utah State University conducted a study testing the components of the sand, which consists of 95 percent pure sand and the rest inert elements that are not harmful to the environment.

After a four-week testing period, Andrew and his team found that areas where black sand had been distributed showed significant progress in the melting process over the parts of snow that had been left alone.

The advantage of this new black sand is not only that it makes the process of clearing the mountain passes easier but it also saves taxpayers money. Money is saved on time because the more snow that has melted means less to remove and less wear and tear on expensive equipment that is costly to operate.

The black sand method would not replace salt that is used on highways and freeways to help remove snow and ice; rather it’s an additional agent to be used on closed roads with heavily packed snow.

“We didn’t use the black sand to help us open the road earlier but we did it to make ourselves more efficient,” Saunders said.

The sand will continue to be tested as an additional tool in the snow removal process for mountain passes in the upcoming winter months.

Photos were provided by Kelly Andrew and Vic Saunders from Region One. 

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