This winter, the Citizen’s Tom Spears looks at what makes our coldest season tick. It’s a series we call The Science of Winter, and today we hear from an expert what to do with a truckload of waste beet juice on a snowy day, in case you have one and were wondering.

Each year, the salt trucks in the Niagara Region are sprinkling sticky brown salt on their roads, melting the snow better than plain salt by mixing it with waste from a refinery that turns beets into sugar.

They use the same “beet juice” mixed with salt in Montreal, in British Columbia’s interior, and in Ontario’s Huron County, where Mike Alcock is the civil engineering technician in a system that has worked on country roads for a decade.

First thing’s first: “It’s not purple.”

“It’s kind of brown,” and looks like thin molasses — not surprising given that molasses also comes from sugar beet juice. Mixed with salt, the juice lowers the freezing point of water, which makes ice less likely to form.

Alcock says it’s even better than salt alone.

In spring and fall, when the danger is frost on bare roads causing black ice, workers spray thin stripes of liquid beet juice and salt-water on the asphalt. It sticks to the asphalt and prevents ice from forming.

“We only do that on problem areas (such as) hills, bridges and sheltered areas. It sticks around” and works for days, he said.

In midwinter, they plow the roads then sprinkle coated salt. The chunks of salt have been given a thin coating of beet juice on their way through the conveyor, making them tacky so they stick to the road.

Anyone who has driven behind a highway salter knows the sight of salt bouncing all over, much of it scattering off the road. Alcock says his county saves enough by coating its salt to cover the cost of juice.

“It also gives (the salt) a little bit of a kickstart. Salt doesn’t do anything until a little brine forms” on the surface of the grains, he said. “So if you spray this liquid, your brine forms instantly, as opposed to the salt having to sit around and wait for a little sun to create enough water on it.”

There’s also a side benefit: Sugar beet juice lowers the effective temperature of road salt to around -25 C from about -10 C. The juice also doesn’t make cars rust.

Huron County, west of Stratford, Ont., has easy access to road salt. The stuff comes from the Sifto salt mine in Goderich, which extends under Lake Huron. But it still doesn’t want to spread more salt than is necessary, as salt is bad for lawns, trees and creatures living in streams and rivers.

Beet juice reduces all that, and helps refiners.

“That’s how you make money: selling your product and your waste,” Alcock says.

Smith Fertilizer and Grain of Iowa, which makes a brand called Beet 55, says beet juice reduces the use of salt by 30 per cent.

More beet juice trivia: You can’t smell it in cold weather, but Alcock warns that you may want to be careful about spraying it near homes when spring comes.

When some drips run out of the truck in summer, “It does smell. Kind of malty. It’s not super-offensive. It’s kind of a concentrated, malty, slightly nauseating smell,” like home-brewed beer before the bottling.

He says he hasn’t ever tasted it, and doesn’t plan to.

In Toronto’s deep freeze, beet juice beats salt for melting ice

SOURCE : by Liam Casey

Molasses from sugar beets, refined and sprayed on roads, can help melt ice at temperatures as low as -32 C — with less environmental damage.

Nothing beats a beet in bad weather.

On Tuesday, Toronto’s salt trucks will be rolling out across the city spraying salt covered with beet juice to help roads melt in the frigid temperatures.

The method is only used when the thermometer drops below -20 C, the point at which salt alone becomes useless. The beet concoction is good until -32 C.

“When it starts getting really cold, that’s where the sugar beet really shines,” said Tony Vaccari, a manager at Eco Solutions, which manufactures Fusion Liquid De-Icer, the product the city uses.

The city used it last week when temperatures fell below that critical point, according to Peter Noehammer, head of Toronto’s transportation services. On Monday crews were busy prepping the trucks with the brown liquid.

Toronto has been using a beet solution for years, Noehammer said.

The city’s salt trucks are already equipped with containers that are normally filled with brine — a salt-water solution — that sprays on the rocks of salt as they come out. That brine is replaced with the beet juice.

The city won’t spray every road with the stuff because it’s about four times more expensive than salt. But they’ll hit strategic parts of the city, such as hills and bridges, where ice is most likely to cause problems.

The sugar beet, which looks like an obese, white carrot, has long been one of the workhorses of the sugar industry. When sugar is mined from the beet for the food industry, molasses is left over.

But the molasses is useless, as you might expect in January.

“When it comes to us it’s thick, a little less than syrup,” Vaccari said. “It’s not pumpable and not really usable by anyone.”

Eco Solutions takes the molasses at its Milton facility and runs it through an “alkaline degradation process” that thins it out and gives it a better “melt value.”

The beet business has been booming of late, Vaccari said, with municipalities and other users such as condominiums looking for better alternatives to salt.

It is an organic product that some have called environmentally friendly.

“We don’t like saying it’s better for the environment than salt, but you can drink our product,” Vaccari said. “I’ve drunk a lot of it during presentations. I mean, it doesn’t taste very good — it’s really bitter.”

Vaccari said cities from Hamilton to London to Niagara are using the product on their roads regularly, which has resulted in significantly less use of salt — upwards of 60 per cent less in some cases.

Road salt is a prime enemy to the ecosystem, said Angela Wallace, of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. She doesn’t know much about the beet product, but anything that reduces chloride in water and soil is beneficial to the environment.

“Indirectly we see a decline in fish health and communities” from road salt, said Wallace, adding that the density of roads correlates to poor health among the fish, bug and plant populations — one of the big culprits being salt used on those roads.

“Beet juice has gained attention, since there’s been a higher emphasis placed on environmental impact because of road salt,” Noehammer said. “And in this case it has the added benefit of working at very cold temperatures.”

And that’s why nothing beats a beet in bad weather.

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