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Water Today Title April 14, 2021

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Update 2017/12/24
Road De-icing


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By Ronan O'Doherty

Commuters in towns across Canada might have noticed municipal trucks spraying a brownish treacle-like substance on their roads over the past few winters.

If it was warm enough for their windows to be down, they might have gotten a whiff of something akin to a salty tootsie roll and wondered if this was how excess Halloween candy was disposed of.

It turns out that the substance being sprayed on roads is a new tool for municipalities looking to cut back on costs, help the environment and make roads more driveable during the winter months. Of interest is the key ingredient:


No, this wasn't an invention of a fictional paper salesman from Scranton, Pennsylvania and these aren't the red pickled beets that you might find at a summer BBQ.

"My understanding is a farmer knocked some (sugar beet product over) and noticed that while surrounding areas froze, that patch with beets product did not and they looked into it and eventually patented the idea," said Luke Grayston, owner of Lugr Enterprises, a Western Canadian distributor of Beet 55, one of the more popular concentrates available in North America, " The product has been in use for some time in the United States. When it comes to winter maintenance technology they're often times the leaders in that respect," said Grayston, adding, "Salt was originally first used on roads in the United States back in the 30s. When they figured out that, hey if we put some salt on the roads it'll reduce the car accidents."

Grayston said that Beet 55 has been around since the 2000s in Canada and is used in 13 North Western States and throughout the Western provinces in Canada.

The City of Winnipeg has been using it for a few winters and so has Calgary.

"They're our biggest user right now," Grayston said in reference to the home of the 88 Winter Olympics, "And this winter they're doing a full-scale usage trial in the downtown core on their roads and their cycle track which is their bike paths."

According to Grayston, the old way of combatting snow and ice in the wintertime involved waiting for a certain amount of snow to fall before sending the plows or salt and sand trucks out.

"You're really waiting for the accumulation and one of the beauties of our product is you can put it down before a storm, several days in advance if necessary, and the beet component helps the brine itself, which is part of it, tack to the roads," he said," It's basically like Teflon on your frying pan, where when the snow falls it will inhibit the snow and ice from bonding to your road surface which is a great thing because it will melt some snow but more importantly it will prevent it from bonding so when a plow comes out it's like taking an egg off your frying pan, it comes off no problem."

Jay Shumaker is a Superintendent for VSA Highway Maintenance Limited, a company responsible for maintaining some of the most treacherous stretches of highway in Canada: Parts of the Coquihalla and the Okanagan Connector, which wind through mountain passes in British Columbia.

His firm has used beet additives every winter since 2010 and have seen many benefits both economic and environmental.

"In the first year we built a 2500 square foot manufacturing plant to make the brine and sugar beet carbohydrate mix," he said, "Those capital costs were paid for the in the first year in savings from salt (that wasn't used) alone."

While it saves a significant amount of money for the firm, Shumaker, who didn't have the exact figures on hand, said that it also saves an awful lot of salt from ending up on the ground and (of note to us) in the water table.

He believes that liquid spraying is the future for municipalities that have to deal with the cards winter deals.

"Liquids are always better because where you put it is where it stays," Shumaker said, "You put down coarse material (like sand or salt) and upwards of 30% leaves the road due to bounce and scatter. Now you have to go back and put down 30% more to do what you need it to do."

Although some sand and rock salt is still used, the post winter clean-up has proven to be a lot easier with the new methods too.

"We've got to sweep everything up afterwards," he said," We went from a three month sweeping program with a lot of equipment that cost $320,000 to now where it costs $200,000 for our sweeping program and we do it in two months."

The product typically uses the by-product of sugar beets, which are grown in large numbers commercially across North America. Typically, some of the pulp was dried and used as a nutrient additive to animal feed but with more and more municipalities using it to bolster their winter fighting capabilities, the cattle might take a back seat.

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