Beets on the Highway

Sugar beet based de-icers like Ice Bite and GeoMelt could offer a less corrosive, more environmentally friendly way for states to de-ice roads. Or maybe not.

“All That’s Trucking” blog by Deborah Lockridge, Editor

As we head into another winter season with state transportation departments spraying roads with corrosive de-icing solutions, some states are trying to cut their use of such chemicals by using a de-icer made from sugar beet juice.

The New York State Thruway Authority’s Syracuse Division is launching a pilot program this winter to test the effectiveness of sugar beet juice mixed with liquid brine and salt to de-ice roadways. The Albany, N.Y., area experimented with the mixture last winter with success.

The sugar beet juice has been praised as a less expensive, more eco-friendly solution to icy roads than magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. Like the more corrosive chloride chemicals, it works at lower temperatures than regular salt brine alone, as a reporter from WSYR in Syracuse reports:

Other states and cities have been trying out beet juice de-icer, which is a byproduct of processing sugar beets, which are grown in states such as Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and Michigan.

The trucking industry for a number of years now has been battling equipment corrosion caused by the newer de-icing chemicals. The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations set up a Corrosion Control Action Committee to address the issue. (See Tom Berg’s report from last year’s TMC annual meeting.)

In addition to the corrosiveness of these salts, environmentalists say these de-icing chemicals are bad for the environment. Chloride run-off in streams can inhibit plant growth, impair reproduction and reduce the diversity of organisms in streams, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that 40 percent of U.S. streams in and around northern cities have damaging concentrations of chloride.

But wait a minute — now some scientists say the beet juice based de-icers could be harmful as well! Last year, scientists in Idaho questioned whether the beet juice de-icer might be harmful for fish and plant life. The following report from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, TV station KREM points out that while beet juice is cheaper to use, it is also loaded with phosphorus, thousands of times higher than normal levels. Runoff could mean oxygen deprivation for organisms that live in the water.

[Sigh.]

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11/30/2010 – Beets on the Highway

As we head into another winter season with state transportation departments spraying roads with corrosive de-icing solutions, some states are trying to cut their use of such chemicals by using a de-icer made from sugar beet juice….
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