Monday, January 13, 2014

Beets + (Less) Salt = Better Deiced Roads - True or False?

A friend sent me a link to this video, dated Jan. 7 (presumably 2014) on why adding beet juice (from the left-over pulp from making sugar that used to be thrown away) can be used at colder temperatures and drastically reduces the chloride necessary to deice roads, thus doing less environmental damage.

Of course, I checked to see what others have said and it turns out this isn't really new news. This is from a 2008 USA Today piece
CINCINNATI — A concoction of beet juice and salt that is kinder to concrete and metal is getting mostly favorable reviews from a growing number of states and cities looking for more effective ways to treat ice- and snow-covered roads.
It works by lowering the freezing temperature of the brine that's used to pretreat roads, experts say. And it's made from a waste product that was dumped down the drain before this new use was discovered.
Road crews learned long ago that pretreating highways with brine before a storm helps prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. Then they learned that adding beet juice to the brine could make the treatment effective at lower temperatures.
A commercial product called Geomelt uses the beet juice that's left after sugar has been extracted from sugar beets. The Ohio Department of Transportation is testing it in 11 counties, spokesman Scott Varner said Wednesday.
"Rock salt alone stops melting snow at about 18 degrees; Geomelt goes to 20 below," Varner said.  .   .   .

They use it in North Dakota where they grow sugar beets.  In Wisconsin they use cheese.  A report out of Chicago  the other day:
Many places around the country are mixing up strange de-icing concoctions, adding things like cheese brine, molasses, and potatoes.
Here in North Dakota beet juice is the not-so-secret ingredient. .  .

Of course, beet juice is abundant locally, with North Dakota's robust sugar beet industry.
Other places use the same concept, for example, in Milwaukee they use cheese brine leftover from cheese making. [cheese link added]
Potatoes?  We grow potatoes well in Alaska.  Does it make more sense to use them to clear the roads or to eat them?  And will beet or potato residue attract moose to the roads?
The Daily Iowan reported in Dec. 2011:

Effectiveness is without a doubt the most important, because human lives are the primary beneficiary. Cost is also to be considered — many municipalities, especially Iowa City, continually face crippling budget restraints. The third principal factor is the environmental impact of a given substance. For instance, road salt often makes its way into urban and other waterways, compromising drinking water and wildlife — not even to mention the detrimental effects of salt-mining.
One natural substance can make the substances we use more powerful, more cost-effective, and more sustainable: sugar beet juice. Both the University of Iowa and Iowa City recognized the advantages of beet-juice formula — often marketed as either ProMelt (pre-mixed) or GeoMelt (unmixed) — and use it to secure our streets.
"We're on our third season using GeoMelt," said John Sobaski, Iowa City's assistant superintendent for streets and traffic engineering. "We receive 1,500 of the 3,000 tons, and we treated that 1,500 tons right here on site. It doesn't take much to coat it, and we have a two- to three-day residual effect on the pavement. It does reduce corrosion, as well, and keeps the stockpile flowing nicely.
"At a cost of $10 per ton, it's been very cost-effective and beneficial."
Hold on though.   Is this just manufacturer hype that the media have eaten up uncritically?  Have the states who use this stuff  done scientific tests or are they using just anecdotal evidence to justify their expenditures on these products? 

A report by the Western Transportation Institute at the University of Montana for the State of Minnesota  is not as effusive about the  benefits of agricultural by-products (ABPs).
Additives such as agricultural by-products (ABP s) or organic by-product enhancers are also blended with these primary chemicals to improve their performances in snow and ice control. Known additives are corn syrup, corn steeps, and other corn derivatives; beet juice-sugared or de-sugared; lignin/lignosulfonate ; molasses (usually from sugar cane); brewers/distillers by- product; and glycerin. A variety of agro-based chemicals are being used either alone or as additives for other winter maintenance chemicals (73). Agro-based additives increase cost but may provide enhanced ice-melting capacity, reduce the deicer corrosiveness, and/or last longer than standard chemicals when applied on roads ( 74). Furthermore, agro-based additives utilize renewable resources and have low environmental impact. Alkoka and Kandil examined a deicing product named Magic, which was a blend of ABPs and liquid MgCl 2 ( 75 ). The working temperature of the product was found to be down to -20ºF. Pesti and Liu evaluated the use of salt brine and liquid corn salt on Nebraska highways and found liquid corn salt to be more cost- effective because it achieved bare pavement conditions quicker than salt brine and contributed to more significant road user savings (76). Fu conducted field testing in the City of Burlington, Canada of two different beet molasses based mate rials (30% beet juice + 70% salt brine) and regular salt brine (23% NaCl) us ed as pre-wetting and anti-icing agents over nine snow events. The results indicated organic materials for pre-wetting under low temperatures did not perform significantly better. With a higher cost than regular brine, organic materials can reduce the amount of chlorides released into the environment. However, the results from this study are limited to the application rates and the observe d winter conditions (77) . The Swedish National Road and Transport Institute evaluated the fricti on characteristics of three types of mixtures. A brine made with 30% sugar beet flour used to pre-wet salt resulted in no significant friction improvement. Longer term performance was observed with sand mixed with hot water (78).  Fay and Shi (19) developed a systematic approach to assist maintenance agencies in selecting or formulating their deicers, which integrates the information available pertinent to various aspects of deicers and incorporates agency priorities.
This post deserves a lot more research.  But I don't think I need to research everything.  I see one of my jobs as finding interesting possibilities and also asking questions and this issue seems relevant to Alaska.


  1. You seem like a person who questions things and who understands the importance of asking the right questions. In the case of these byproducts a skeptical person might ask what happened to them before they were spread on the roads?

    Salt pollution due to road salt use is a serious problem, but is beet juice the best solution?

    Were these wastes treated (to neutralize them and make them less harmful) and then carefully disposed of? Perhaps they were just carelessly dumped? Perhaps some other scheme allowed them to be used is some way. Perhaps some regulation changed which motivated the producers of these wastes to apply some greenwash and crank up the press releases?

    Perhaps beet juice injectors could clean up the Fairbanks wood stoves? Perhaps soaking green wood in Mat Maid cheese brine will cause that wood to burn clean and hot? Maybe not.

    No real info but I am just a little suspicious. Since you cited brand names maybe this post will receive some helpful information.

    1. Anon, You're imagination is taking off. I like that. Are you asking if they are using organic beets? I understood from what I read that they're using the beet pulp left over after extracting the sugar.

      I thought Mat Maid was gone.

    2. The whole paragraph with the Mat Maid reference was snarky.

      Without independent testing the taxpayer money may be wasted and possible environmentally harm may be done.

      These new deicing materials apparently are salty enough to melt ice and snow and have some other chemical properties. Just like anything else, what are the environmental consequences of using this stuff? The questions ought to include what was done with this stuff before it began to be used on roads.


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