Beet juice battles road ice

Last year, 500,000 litres of beet juice was sprayed on the Coquihalla Highway.

The unlikely tool has been used by VSA Highway Maintenance on the notorious mountain pass in an attempt to keep ice at bay.

Salt brine liquid is used as a preventive measure to keep roads from icing, but it's only effective down to -5 C. When mixed with beet molasses, it lowers the brine's effective temperature down to about -15 C.

Chuck Gallacher, vice-president of Premium Canada, the Lake Country-based distributor of the beet product, says the Coquihalla has been used as a pilot project for the technology, and it has been adopted by several municipalities this winter.

The molasses is a byproduct of the process of removing sugar from beets. Premium Canada imports the product from Nampa, Idaho. 

In addition to lowering the effective temperature of the brine, the sticky molasses helps keep sand and salt on the road. Without the beet additive, Gallacher says 70 per cent of solid products applied to roads ends up bouncing into the ditch.

Liquid products like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride can be used at temperatures, down to -30 C, but are more expensive than salt brine, and can have environmental consequences if overused.

“Salt brine is so much cheaper than those other liquids, and so the beet juice piece comes in by being able to supplement your salt brine and basically duplicate the performance of a higher-priced chloride product,” Gallacher said.

Williams Lake and Merritt have also used beets on their roads, in addition to cities in Ontario and Quebec.

“It's just being introduced really by us to cities this winter,” Gallacher he said.

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