U.S. Army Extends Contract for Non-Corrosive Deicer Development

The contract calls for the development of a large-scale prototype electrolyzer to make a non-corrosive deicing chemical for the U.S. Army. Image courtesy of OCOchem.

Clean fuel and chemicals startup company OCOchem (Richland, Washington, USA) was recently awarded an extension of its $1.1 million contract to create a chemical process to manufacture a lower-cost, non-corrosive, chlorine-free deicer to protect U.S. Army and other military equipment from damage caused by rock or road salt.

Once produced to scale—and if adopted broadly for military and civilian use—the new chemical would replace the use of chloride-based deicing salts and save U.S. state and local governments more than $100 billion in annual corrosion-related road, bridge, and equipment maintenance costs and help protect the environment and water supplies, according to the company.

Limitations of Chloride-Based Salts

The U.S. military, as well as state and local governments in cold-weather environments, use chemical deicers to melt dangerous ice on roads, walkways, and runways. U.S. military facilities throughout the world rely on deicers to keep their bases operational and mission ready. However, the most common de-icing chemicals used today, due to their historically lower costs, are chloride-based salts.

“These salts have negative effects on the environment and surrounding infrastructure after they are applied, dissolved, and dispersed,” said Todd Brix, co-founder and CEO of OCOchem.

These negative effects include the corrosion of vehicles, equipment, and metal components (like rebar and joints) used in bridges and transportation infrastructure; soil and drinking water contamination from chemical runoff; and vegetation damage.

In response, OCOchem says it has developed a cost-effective process to create a noncorrosive, potassium formate deicer using inexpensive and recycled carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, water, potassium sulfate, and clean electricity. Although other potassium formate deicers exist and are commonly used in airports and for home use, they are made from fossil fuels. By contrast, OCOchem’s process reduces the price by using abundant recycled CO2 to make it affordable.

Potassium Formate as Liquid Brine

With a U.S. Army grant, OCOchem recently built the first large scale prototype-scale mobile Carbon Flux Electrolyzer that produces potassium formate in a ready-to-use liquid brine formulation for use as a corrosion-free deicer. The formate electrolyzer can fit on the back of a military vehicle, making it directly accessible to bases throughout the world.

The prototype—invented, created, and demonstrated at OCOchem’s Richland headquarters—is described as the world’s first formate electrolyzer of this size. It is 18 times larger than the initial prototype developed by Brix and his team.

If widely adopted by the military and civilian users, the company believes this has the potential to save significant money for U.S. taxpayers through reduced corrosion, maintenance, and replacement costs relative to chloride-based deicers. Other potential benefits could include:

  • Enhancing supply chain resilience and reduce logistics costs and risks by allowing new de-icing chemicals to be made on-site at U.S. military bases;
  • Lowering potassium formate costs by more than 30% to enable expanded use;
  • Creating a shorter and more resilient U.S. supply chain that does not rely on chemicals imported from abroad. Potassium formate would be produced on-site using the Carbon Flux Electrolyzer and domestically sourced recycled CO2, water, and potassium sulfate;
  • Cutting environmental and water supply contamination and salination by reducing chloride salt-based deicer runoff; 
  • Reducing CO2 emissions by capturing and recycling CO2 from on-base emission sources, such as diesel generators, natural gas turbines, and heaters;
  • Reducing overall CO2 emissions by more than 100 million tons per year in the United States (2% of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions) by replacing traditional rock salt deicers with this approach.

Triple Benefit

“The potential impact of this novel lower-cost carbon-neutral deicing manufacturing process delivers a triple benefit to national defense readiness, civilian customers, and the environment,” Brix says.

“We are excited to continue our efforts to further scale our formate electrolyzer technology to a commercial-ready system for the U.S. Army so that the new low-cost corrosion-free deicer can be used at U.S. military bases throughout the world and be deployed in the civilian sector to more affordably enhance safe travel and to protect and extend the longevity of our natural and built environment,” he concludes.

Trade name.

Source: OCOchem, www.ocochem.com.

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