Right: potholes are a major
problem, particulary in areas with a pronounced
above: Diamond J’s Frostwick System, placed
below asphalt, is a solution that’s finding
a place in the construction industry.
A Rocky Mountain House invention owes its birth
to a revelation in the West Edmonton Mall parking lot,
many years ago. The
Frostwick System has come a long way since then – and
is now making its mark as a simple, effective way to protect
pavement from frost damage.
BY STU SALKELD
A Rocky Mountain House inventor will always look at West
Edmonton Mall’s parking lot as the proverbial light
bulb above his head. It was there that Diamond J Industries’ Frostwick
System, which protects pavement from seasonal soil shifting
and destabilization, was born.
Max Andrews, Diamond J operations manager, was working for
PCL Construction when the WEM parking lot was built. With
a lack of space for equipment, the parking lot needed a long
lifespan because regular maintenance wouldn’t be possible.
Gumbo clay underneath it meant something had to be done to
stop absorption of water, which leads to later expansion.
Eventually, the moisture would create that pesky and expensive
enemy of roadways called the frost heave or frost boil.
“The swelling property of that type of clay is enormous,” says
Mr. Andrews, from the Diamond J headquarters near Rocky Mountain
Mr. Andrews’ solution? Place a layer of polystyrene
over the clay to act as an insulator, keeping temperatures
stable while controlling moisture. To this day, the layer
is still in place and functioning.
“And that isn’t even close to what our product is now,” says
The product now is the Frostwick System, a way to effectively
and economically control the frost heaves and boils caused
by the underground freeze-and-thaw cycle.
A New Combination
Spruce Grove’s John Twach, P.Eng., is a believer. The
retired civil engineer spent virtually his entire career
in road construction, including 20 years with Public Works
Canada and 13 with Parkland County.
Mr. Twach dealt with frost heaves and boils for decades,
as well as other nasty road-building conditions such as permafrost.
The Frostwick System is not so much a revolutionary material,
he says, as it is a revolutionary use of existing materials.
“Frostwick is really not different from some of the materials
being used up to now. It’s the combination being used
in that’s new,” says the APEGGA life member,
who’s been approached by Diamond J to do consulting
work for the company. A polystyrene foam interior and geosynthetic
fabric lamination becomes almost like rebar in concrete.
“If you take either of those materials separately, they
have limited strength. But when you put them together, you
sort of a reinforcing effect. The two of them together act
structurally similar to reinforced concrete.”
“An increase in load-carrying strength, plus thermal
protection, a barrier to moisture migration and the promotion
as desired, are combined into a single-product installation.”
The Road to Frostwick
But it took a while for Mr. Andrews to reach that stage.
He found even more reason to perfect his idea of underground
insulation after leaving PCL, when he became public works
superintendent for Clearwater County.
“We had one frost heave on old Highway 11A that would
throw the kids around the school bus pretty badly,” recalls
Mr. Andrews. This time, bentonite clay was the culprit – but
the modus operandi was similar.
The clay wanted to absorb large amounts of moisture, freeze,
then expand, causing damage to the engineered roadway. Polystyrene,
laid three feet down, was used to cover the clay and control
“It hasn’t come back since. It totally solved the problem.”
That encouraged Mr. Andrews to approach Diamond J owner
and operator John Bandura with a business proposal. “I
said, John, this is something we should have a good look
at. Nothing like this exists anywhere.”
Mr. Bandura agreed with Mr. Andrews. There was nothing like
it. And that was part of the problem.
The experienced businessman says: “To me, this was
not something that was in any of our books. But it was making
sense when we sat down and started talking about it.”
Mr. Bandura and Mr. Andrews then spent two and a half years
refining the idea to its final, current form.
Frostwick includes individual plates of polystyrene, which
is a durable insulator. But by itself it is not quite enough,
so the Frostwick System coats it on each side with a geosynthetic.
“If you want to wick the water away from the insulation,
you use non-woven geosynthetic,” which will protect the
system during back-filling, says the inventor. “However,
if you’re dealing with an Artesian situation, where
you’ve got water welling from the bottom, you use the
But company testimonials aside, does it really work? How
effective is that layer of geosynthetic seal?
The Bandura-Andrews duo hired Alberta Research Council to
test the product. ARC proved the application of geosynthetic
could improve stress capabilities of the insulating material
up to 400 per cent. Not too shabby.
“What that proved is that you don’t necessarily have
to use the higher PSI grade of insulation, if you add the
lower cost geosynthetic to it,” adds Mr. Andrews.
To further increase longevity, Frostwick’s plates employ
an interlocking feature, allowing them to shift up to six
inches. As engineers know, underground movement can cause
serious problems to man-made structures not designed for
it. Interlocking plates also virtually eliminate leakage.
As a final touch, angled wing pieces control leakage attacking
the road from the shoulders.
How the Future Looks
Diamond J is convinced it’s onto something. With the
public and the private sectors also voicing support, Mr.
Andrews says the future looks good. “It’ll prove
itself and sell itself right off the bat.”
Alberta Transportation, in fact, gave Frostwick “proven
product” status, elminating the need for a pilot project.
With the invention under production in Rocky Mountain House,
several new projects have already been completed in 2004 – one
in the County of Lethbridge, and two more in Sturgeon County.
And Diamond J plans to complete projects in the Municipal
District of Rockyview, Yellowhead County, Brazeau County
and Strathcona County, before year’s end.
There’s more positive news. The company is currently
working out a deal for a public-private partnership in the
energy field, which will attempt to create a year-round ice
road system in muskeg, employing the Frostwick System.
Partners are the Alberta departments of Innovation and Science
($75,000) and Economic Development ($25,000), plus Diamond
J, which puts in the matching $100,000. The project will
be coordinated by Portage College, with the Consulting Engineers
of Alberta playing an advisory and evaluation role.
Why is Frostwick so popular? One boon is the mechanically
simple design, based on readily available polystyrene. It’s
so simple, in fact, you’d think someone would have
thought of it before.
"We hear that a lot,” Mr. Andrews says with a laugh.