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Oklahoma State University

The Geothermal Smart Bridge

Sponsor:  Oklahoma Department of Transportation
                  U.S. Department of Transportation

Investigators:  J.D. Spitler, S.J. Rees, D.E. Fisher

Students:  Jankovic, D. Hamill, H. Jin, X. Liu, M. Ramamurthy

Description:  Research into the geothermal smart bridge is ongoing at Oklahoma State University, with the close cooperation of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. The project is aimed at the development of a bridge deck heating system to eliminate preferential icing. The proposed bridge deck heating system

  • Is hydronic, i.e. a heated fluid is circulated through tubes embedded in the bridge deck,

  • Makes use of a ground source heat pump system, which recovers energy stored in the earth, and uses it to heat the fluid circulated through the bridge deck,

  • Is automatic, and makes use of local and remote weather stations to forecast potential icing conditions, (the automatic nature of the controls has given rise to the informal name "Smart Bridge")

  • Is expected to enhance both safety, by eliminating preferential icing conditions, and bridge deck life, by eliminating the application of salt on the bridge deck, and reducing corrosion of the reinforcing steel.

Initial research was funded by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Initial research was done on a very small-scale (3' by 10') test bridge deck, along with an experimentally calibrated numerical model. More recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation has funded a much larger research project.

The concept for the bridge deck heating system came about approximately five years ago, with the idea that two areas of special technical expertise available at Oklahoma State University (OSU) might be combined to increase bridge deck life. The two areas are:

  • Ground source heat pump systems. OSU has been at the center of ground source heat pump system research and application for over 20 years. The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) is headquartered at OSU and has trained and certified 1000 installers, and numerous engineers, architects, etc. Three faculty members perform extensive experimental and computational research related to ground source heat pump systems funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Electric Power Research Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium.

  • The Oklahoma Mesonet is a collaborative project between Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. The Mesonet is a network of 110 weather stations distributed throughout Oklahoma. Nearly real-time weather data is available over the Internet. The weather data will be used to aid the forecasting of potential icing conditions. It should be emphasized here that the high density of weather stations will allow us to investigate a range of availability of weather stations, as might be found at various locations throughout the U.S.

In addition to the two areas of special technical expertise, the project takes advantage of OSU expertise in heat transfer, systems simulation, computer software development, corrosion control, concrete structures, and intelligent transportation systems. Where appropriate, we will be partnering with colleagues at the University of Oklahoma to utilize additional expertise in weather forecasting and economic analysis.


Srdjan Jankovic's  M.S. Thesis

Xiao Xia's  M.S. Thesis

Xiaobing Liu Ph.D. Thesis

Liu, X. and J.D. Spitler. 2004. A Simulation Tool for the Design of the Hydronic Bridge Snow Melting System. Proceedings of the12th International Road Weather Conference, Bingen (on Rhine), Germany, June 16 - 18, 2004.

Liu, X. and J.D. Spitler. 2004. Simulation Based Investigation on the Design of Hydronic Snow Melting System. Proceedings of the Transportation Research Board 83rd Annual Meeting. Washington, D.C. January 11-15, 2004. 

Jenks, S.C., J.R. Whiteley, K. N. Pandit, D. S. Arndt, M. L. Stone, R. L. Elliot,  J. D. Spitler, and M. D. Smith.  2003.  Smart Control of a Geothermally Heated Bridge Deck.  Proceedings of the Transportation Research Board 82nd Annual Meeting.  Washington, D.C. January 12-16, 2003.   

Liu, X., S.J. Rees, J.D. Spitler.  2003.  "Simulation of a Geothermal Bridge Deck Anti-icing System and Experimental Validation."  Proceedings of the Transportation Research Board 82nd Annual Meeting. Washington, D.C.  January 12-16, 2003. 

Chiasson, A. and J.D. Spitler.  2001.  Modeling Approach to Design of a Ground-Source Heat Pump Bridge Deck Heating System.  Transportation Research Record.  1741:207-215.

Chiasson, A., J.D. Spitler.  2000. A Modeling Approach To Design Of A Ground-Source Heat Pump Bridge Deck Heating System.  Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Snow Removal and Ice Control Technology.  Roanoke, VA. September 5-8, 2000.

Spitler, J.D., M. Ramamoorthy 2000. Bridge Deck Deicing using Geothermal Heat Pumps.  Proceedings of the Fourth International Heat Pumps in Cold Climates Conference, Aylmer, Québec. August 17-18, 2000.