"BEET" the Icy Roads: How Cities from Winnipeg to Chicago are Using Beet Juice

Beet Juice Used to De-Ice Roads in Canada

Need to clear icy roads? Winnipeg and Chicago may have the answer to anti-icing and de-icing roads using beet juice. Yes. BEETS! 

It is not surprising that the beet is upping its "coolness" factor by helping combat snow and ice. The humble beetroot has a fascinating history filled with epic stories of beets curing hangovers, healing dandruff, enhancing sexual performance, and making delicious port wine. Even astronauts have munched on beets in space. Yes - the beet IS that awesome. Now sugar beets are coming to the rescue to "beet" the ice during daunting winter conditions. 

Although we are most familiar with the infamous red beet, the quirky vegetable that stains its way to the dinner table, the beet family has many types and varieties, including the Sugar Beet which is white in color and sweet in taste. Sugar beets are usually grown commercially and processed as table sugar, animal food, and other products; in this case, the sugar beet is being used to prevent and break down ice and snow. 

Sugar Beets in Soil on Farm.jpg

According to reporter Aldo Santin from the Winnipeg Free Press, "The City of Winnipeg has been using the beet juice mixture – desugared beet molasses mixed with road salt – exclusively in the east, and plans to expand it citywide next winter." How does this mixture break down or prevent ice? For anti-icing, the beet juice "liquid is on the surface and stops the ice from forming; for de-icing, it’s used as a pre-wetting liquid with salt-sand mixture and helps keep it sticking to the ground" (Winnipeg Free Press). This sticky substance is showing incredible preventative results. When placed before a snow/ice storm, this mixture inhibits the snow and ice from bonding to the road's surface. 

If you live anywhere that has messy and often dangerous winter conditions, you know that preventing slippery roads and sidewalks is essential for driving, walking, and other transportation. Sand, kitty litter, salt, etc. are often used to break down ice; however, these methods can be corrosive and sometimes harmful to the environment.  Formerly in Winnipeg, "The city had been using a calcium-chloride mixture for wetting purposes but Cheryl Anderson [acting manager of city maintenance] said it’s corrosive on roads and sidewalks. This type of method can be damaging to roads and sidewalks. "The beet juice mixture (beet juice mixed with calcium chloride) is more environmentally friendly and has less corrosive impact." Additionally, "unlike salt brine, which is only effective to about -12 C, beet juice is effective to -35 C" (Winnipeg Free Press).  When sugar beet liquid and rock salt combine, the outcome increases the melting capacity of rock salt which helps ice melt at colder temperatures. 

This un"beet"able solution for de-icing and anti-icing roads has also been used in other Canadian cities, such as Williams Lake of British Columbia. Using an effective mixture called Beet 55 (a mixture of beet juice with saline) before a big snow/ice storm, the solution helps stop ice from bonding to road surfaces. Plus - with this natural solution, no residue is left on the roads, residue which typically leads to the break-down of road integrity and extensive spring clean-up. Thanks to the fabulous beet, no unnecessary spring clean-up is necessary! According to The Globe and Mail, "Beet 55 uses far less salt, which can wash off roads and pollute streams, than other ice-melting compounds. Hooray for beets! 

Beet Juice De-Ices Roads in Winnipeg Canada.jpg

Several other Canadian cities also use a beet juice concoction in lieu of traditional road salt. "Montreal started using a beet-juice anti-icing agent in 2010, Ottawa in 2011 and Toronto has been using it during the recent cold snap because it is effective at extremely low temperatures" (The Globe and Mail). 

Canada isn't the only one with the "beet"! The product Beet Heet (a sugar beet and molasses mixture ), is seeing great success in several U.S. states, such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Chicago has been using a beet juice mixture for almost ten years! "When beet juice was first used in Chicago streets, in 2009, then-mayor Richard Daley said the solution wasn't as corrosive as the heavy salt-based product it replaced, which was eating away at concrete, creating potholes" (The Globe and Mail). 

Beet Heet distributors (K-Tech Specialty Coatings in Indiana) state that the sugar beet and salt product helps "municipalities melt larger amounts of ice and clean up snow more quickly. It is also sticky, preventing salt rocks from bouncing off of the road as cars drive past" (Time). 

This mixture of sweet sugar beets with regular road salt reduces the salt's environmental impact. Plus - there is a bonus to this organic sweet and salty mixture. Imagine your city smelling like a salted tootsie roll. Yum! 


References

Hume, Mark. (2017). B.C. town uses beet juice on snowy roads. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-town-uses-beet-juice-on-snowy-roads/article16274717/. 

Rhodan, Maya and Josh Sanburn. (2014). How Beet Juice Is Helping Keep Roads Safe This Winter. Retrieved from http://time.com/5761/salt-shortage-triggers-beet-juice-cheese-brine-alternatives/. 

Santin, Aldo. (2018). Just beet it: Winnipeg to expand use of alternative anti-ice product. Retrieved from https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/just-beet-it-winnipeg-to-expand-use-of-alternative-anti-ice-product-479019403.html. 

 

Photo Credit: Licensed to JBI from Shutterstock.