News / Science & Technology

Beet Juice Fights Icy Roads

In a demonstration, a bucket is filled with beet juice at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Butler, Pa., maintenance facility, Jan. 6, 2014, which is then mixed with road rock salt that is largely ineffective below 16 degrees.In a demonstration, a bucket is filled with beet juice at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Butler, Pa., maintenance facility, Jan. 6, 2014, which is then mixed with road rock salt that is largely ineffective below 16 degrees.
x
In a demonstration, a bucket is filled with beet juice at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Butler, Pa., maintenance facility, Jan. 6, 2014, which is then mixed with road rock salt that is largely ineffective below 16 degrees.
In a demonstration, a bucket is filled with beet juice at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Butler, Pa., maintenance facility, Jan. 6, 2014, which is then mixed with road rock salt that is largely ineffective below 16 degrees.
Road crews struggling to keep highways ice-free during this punishing winter have had help from an unusual ally: the sugar beet.

It’s a sweet solution to treacherous winter travel now in use across the country, saving money while reducing the damaging effects of road salt.

Salt works by lowering the freezing temperature of ice. That’s why highway workers spread generous amounts of it on the roads before a winter storm.

But it has been a brutally cold winter in much of the United States - too cold for salt alone to work well.

So in states from Tennessee to North Dakota, workers have been adding beet juice to road salt or brine to bring that freezing temperature down further.

Vodka origins

It all started at a potato vodka distillery in Hungary.

“They had noticed that the brook where their wastewater went never froze,” said Rob English, president of Chemical Solutions, which sells a range of de-icing products.

Sugars left over from fermenting the potatoes were doing the trick.

The idea caught on. Soon companies in the U.S. were making deals with major breweries. They wanted the water left over from soaking grains.

This was good deal for the breweries, English added. “They said, ‘Great, somebody wants to buy our wastewater. So, we don’t have to deal with treatment on this stuff anymore.’”

Sticky

Beet juice - or, more accurately, the molasses left over from refining sugar beets - works on the same principle as the water from fermented potatoes.

Road crews add a bit of the molasses to the saltwater solution they spray on the pavement. Or, they use it in a solution to moisten rock salt before spreading it on roadways.

Besides lowering the freezing temperature, it also helps the salt stick to the road.

“[Plain] salt just hits the ground and bounces around a little bit. Then a big semi comes around and blows some of it off,” said Max Smith, general manager of Smith Grain and Fertilizer, which sells one of the beet juice products. “When you put that molasses-based product on there, it makes it sticky. And it keeps the salt where it needs to be,”

Because it sticks to the road, it does not need to be re-applied as often. And, since it boosts salt’s ice-melting power, municipalities can use less and save money.

Eco-friendly

Less salt on the roads is a good thing for the environment, too.

“It’s tough on vegetation, it’s tough on fish and wildlife in some places. It’s even been damaging to some trees and yards if you get too much on,” Smith said.

Salt is tough on vehicles, too, especially the trucks that spread it. But it’s less corrosive with a bit of beet juice.

Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri and other states have been using beet products for years. Even Washington, D.C. uses one.

Mixed reviews

But across the border in Maryland, Department of Transportation officials tried beet juice and were not impressed.

“We weren’t getting a lot of extra benefit from it,” said spokesman David Buck. “So, it’s just something we looked at for a few years and moved on.”

A bit farther north, Pennsylvania is trying it out, and it looks good so far.

“It really does work well below [-9 degrees Celsius], where salt is less effective,” said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Deborah Casadei.

Bitter cold, it seems, is where beet juice really shines.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Randal Osgood from: Michigan
March 08, 2014 5:10 AM
One question: if it sticks to the road, wouldn't it stick to cars as well? Just what we need, more salt eating our vehicles!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid