Beet juice might beat alternatives for fighting ice, snow

Columbia officials are pondering whether to add the natural solution to its winter arsenal
Sunday, February 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:13 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

COLUMBIA — It won’t happen this year, but city officials are exploring whether it would be a good idea to use beet juice to combat snow and ice.

Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Columbia Public Works Department, said the city is watching the use of beet juice in other areas of Missouri and might budget for it in the future. A report to the City Council from Public Works Director John Glascock said beet juice could help control the costs of calcium chloride for snow removal.

"We don't have any anticipation of using it right now," Stedem said. "It's just not feasible with our budget."

The city’s snow removal budget for this year is $724,160, according to Glascock’s report. The vast majority if that is spent on salt and calcium chloride.

The report said that beet juice application would involve additional equipment costs for mixing and distribution and that these expenses will be included in future budgets to prepare for such operations.

"We are researching this application and during the budget process we will be including expenses for this type of equipment to prepare for this change in operation," Glascock wrote.

Last winter, Springfield used liquid beet juice on its snowy streets. Springfield street superintendent Jonathan Gano said the city sprayed a beet juice solution from trucks before and after winter storms. The liquid helps keep roads from icing over and temporarily dyes snow brown, which causes it to absorb heat faster.

"It's a chemical reaction that depresses the freezing point of water below the normal," he said. "It allows the water to run off the road instead of freezing."

Gano said the Missouri Department of Transportation uses an alternative beet juice system that involves mixing the juice with rock salt before it's spread on roads.

Transportation department spokeswoman Melissa Black said the state started testing the mixture on roads in 2006 on a small scale. She said the beet juice, called Geomelt, comes from Smith Fertilizer and Grain in Knoxville, Iowa.

Salt alone stops working at extremely cold temperatures, Black said. When mixed with beet juice, it melts ice at temperatures closer to zero. 

"We've increased our usage dramatically because we have seen really good results by using it. It's very helpful when it gets really cold," Black said.

Last winter, the state used 242,000 gallons of beet juice, compared to 35,000 gallons in 2007-08 season, Black said. It has used 78,000 gallons so far this winter, according to a recent news release.

Gano said beet juice is a more environmentally friendly de-icing agent than other alternatives.

"You have an environmental advantage because it's a non-chloride de-icer," he said.

The environmental payoff does come at a higher cost. Gano said Springfield stopped using beet juice because it was expensive and only marginally useful in Springfield's climate. He said northern areas of Missouri might have better results.

Black said beet juice costs the state between $1.73 and $1.80 per gallon. Columbia buys calcium chloride at 70 cents per gallon, Stedem said. Salt costs $60 a ton, and cinders — a byproduct of coal burning at the Columbia Municipal Power Plant — are free, according to Glascock’s report.

For now, snow removal crews in Columbia use salt, cinders and calcium chloride.

"We get complaints quite often about the use of cinders," Stedem said. She said the city continues to use them because it can’t afford not to.

Despite complaints, the city isn't recommending neighborhoods be able to choose whether cinders are used during winter weather. In addition to increasing salt costs, the report said snow removal crews would be unable to track such requests.


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Ray Shapiro February 7, 2010 | 1:35 a.m.

Purple rain in the snow?
Where I come from, any parkway covered with beet juice would give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Borsht Belt."
And while warm koshered chicken blood might also help melt snow, in this case a by-product from the making of sugar is being used from the sugar beet.
This "beet juice" is brown sludge and not red, and does not go well over boiled potatoes, or in a bowl with a dollup of sour cream. In appearance, the sugar beet root is nearly white in color, not red or deep purple like most forms of beets sold directly for consumption.,2933,3317...

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