Ice Blasting

Adam Schachner, ice engineer, Coulson Ice Blast
Special Collaboration


 


Montreal is an old city. Buildings are stained with dirt and streaks of rust. The streets are a maze of traffic pylons and open pits, with brightly colored hard hats occasional popping up from them like warrior groundhogs. Highway interchanges are under demolition, ending with sudden cliffs of jutting rebar.
And yet the concrete jungle mimics the systems of a true rainforest. The city is under constant renewal. New structures sprout amidst the demolished remains of old colossi. The holes in the street will close once more, with the roots for water and electricity having grown thicker and stronger.

However, problems arise because knowledge and regulations regarding the use of safe materials have changed drastically over the years and, like all old cities, Montreal is a living museum of this evolution. What was once acceptable when a building was constructed is no longer acceptable when it must be taken down.

How do you safely demolish a structure coated in lead paint and filled with asbestos? The answer has been, until now, very slowly and very carefully, with the setup of expensive and time consuming containment.

There is now an alternative. It makes containment much easier, it is cheaper, faster and environmentally friendly. It is called Coulson Ice Blast and it is an industrial cleaning technology, similar to sandblasting, but using crushed ice cubes instead of sand.

You may have heard of dry ice blasting. This is not that. Coulson Ice Blast uses normal ice, made from water, the same kind of ice you wouldd put in your drink. And because of its wet properties, it helps contain airborne contaminants that have been blasted off a surface during cleaning. A mist forms around the work area, making these particulates wet and heavy, dragging them to the ground and collecting them within a neat pile of slush. A simple tarp can be placed beneath the blast zone to gather it all up for disposal, after the moisture has evaporated away. Due to the reduced levels of airborne contaminants, worker and passerby safety is increased.

Coulson Ice Blast produces the only industrial cleaning machine in the world to use ice cubes as a blast media. Their signature product is the IceStorm90 blasting machine. Standard ice cubes, made with any freezer, ice cube maker or purchased and delivered to the worksite through a global network of suppliers, are loaded into the hopper of the machine. The IceStorm90 then crushes these cubes into smaller ice particles, feeds them into a compressed air stream and blasts them at high speed towards the surface to be cleaned.

Ice blasting has several main advantages over competing technologies. It uses 1/10th the water compared to a pressure washer. The fact that ice is solid gives it a much higher impact force, making it more effective. The reduced water usage and evaporation due to impact energy means that there is very little moisture left over after blasting. Containment is thus much easier and the technology is ideal for situations where reduced moisture is required, such as indoor cleaning applications.

Compared to dry ice blasting, ice blasting has a tiny fraction of the media cost (dry ice is incredibly expensive and much of the media sublimates away before you have a chance to use it), it better contains airborne contaminants, does not come with the risk of asphyxiation from CO2 and does not come with the handling or material damage risk posed by the cryogenic temperatures of dry ice.

While ice is hard enough to provide a high impact force, it is not as hard as sand, which means that it can be used to clean contaminants from a surface without damaging the underlying material. It can be used to clean glass without scratching it. It can be used for cleaning off graffiti or dirt from old buildings/sculptures without damaging them. With the use of different techniques and accessories, ice can be tough enough to remove hard substances like industrial paints and resins, or soft enough to remove burnt ash from wood without ripping apart the grain.

Renewal is a natural part of all environments, man-made or otherwise. But it would be nice if the renewal methods for cities could be anywhere close to as natural and environmentally friendly as those for biological systems. The very low cost of media, ease of containment and disposal, increased safety and faster cleaning make ice blasting a very attractive technology as we work towards achieving this.

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