Battling Icy Boulevards with Beet Juice

A new proposal in the Michigan legislature would launch a pilot program studying the use of organic additives such as juice from sugar beets in order to better control ice on public roads.

The legislation would not require the beet-juice solution to replace traditional road salt, but mix with it in order to create a sticky substance that more effectively adheres to the roads for a longer period of time. Supporters say this would also reduce reliance on traditional salt, which will in turn reduce runoff, pose fewer environmental risks, and is overall less costly.

From Route Fifty’s coverage:

Under the bill, DOT officials would be required to test the substance in at least five places that contain “roads, highways and bridges that are subject to deterioration from salt,” as well as a body of water that’s at “high risk” of contamination from chloride runoff. Results would be due back to the legislature by the end of 2022, and would include steps for “increasing statewide use of organic additives.”

The pilot program could cost between $25,000 and $50,000, depending on the number of road miles that will need to be treated, according to a fiscal analysis. But statewide implementation would likely save money due to both the reduced use of salt and man hours, the document said.

The article goes on to explain that several cities in Michigan already use sugar beet byproducts on icy roads and have seen positive results. Other states, such as Missouri also have increased initiatives on beet juice solutions.

Missouri Department of Transportation’s facts on sugar beets for winter roads:

  • The sugar beet is of course used to make table sugar as well as feed for cattle.
  • The product we use is a by product of the process that makes the sugar for our tables. It is a result of a fermentation process that extracts the sugar crystals leaving the juice behind.
  • Beet juice has been proven to lessen the corrosive properties of the salt that we use to apply to the roads.
  • Beet juice cost are relative the same as calcium at $1.70-$1.85 per gallon.
  • We use a mixture of 80% salt brine and 20% beet juice in most areas.
  • Beet juice and salt brine will work at temps approaching zero but with the addition of calcium we can theoretically achieve a little lower temperature before freezing occurs.
  • We store around 30,000 gallons of beet juice/brine mix to be used at a moment’s notice.
  • The beet juice actually needs salt brine to melt ice.
  • At 30 degrees, one pound of salt will melt 46.3 pounds of ice, but at 0 degrees, the same pound of salt will melt just 3.7 pounds of ice.
  • Regular water-based salt brine works well until 25 degrees.
  • Beet juice is added to the mix between 25 degrees and 5 degrees.
  • Calcium chloride added to the mix between 5 degrees and -10 degrees.
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