Beet juice is now being mixed with road salt for better Kansas road treatment prior to storms.
During the past century, beets were a staple Kansas crop. Although the industry has faltered in Kansas, beet juice is once again an important commodity for the sunflower state.
We are using beet juice to treat our icy roadways, and we are importing the juice from Iowa.
The Kansas Department of Transportation found beet juice, when mixed with brine, helps the department use less salt and makes icy roadways safer. According to KDOT, based on the level of concentration, beet juice mixed with brine can help control ice when it is as cold as 0 degrees.
As moisture on pavement starts to freeze, the juice mixture slows the freezing process and enables the liquid to remain slushy longer. This allows crews more time to clear highways before the liquid turns to ice. Also, because there is less freezing, crews do not have to apply brine as often.
Although the spray looks darker, with a browner hue, the color does not harm either the infrastructure or vehicle.
“It does not stain,” said W. Clay Adams, bureau chief of maintenance for KDOT. “It is very water soluble.”
Without the beet juice, there is a bounce-back from wind and traffic when salt brine is sprayed directly to the road. When the juice is added, the crystals do not bounce and remain on the pavement longer.
“Beet juice, mixed with salt brine at a 20% beet juice, 80% salt brine will become very thick at -6 degrees Fahrenheit,” Clay said.
During winter 2015, KDOT started experimenting with beet juice in northwestern Kansas. Since then, KDOT made beet juice available at more than 20 locations across Kansas and made it a staple at these locations since the fall of 2017.
Like in Kansas, municipalities across the country are using beet juice to help with ice.
“We know that Nebraska, Wyoming, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Ohio and Minnesota use some beet juice,” Adams said.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has used beet juice for more than a decade. Along with applying the juice to brine, MDOT also uses the juice straight up.
“It’s an alcohol-based, agricultural byproduct,” said Todd Miller, maintenance liaison engineer for winter operations at MDOT. “It’s stickier, so it holds onto the pavement longer.”
Miller said the juice is also safe on bridges.
“It holds on a little better,” he said. “We like it.”
Along with beet juice, scientists and civil engineers are studying other natural resources to combat freezing ice on roadways. A study titled “Understanding the Effectiveness of Non-Chloride Liquid Agricultural By-Products and Solid Complex Chloride/Mineral Products” produced by the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University found other agro-based products also produced significant help in lowering brine’s freezing point and improving ice melting capability.
The study found beet molasses, corn, cheese brewing, beer brewing, urea and starch byproducts effective in deicing roads. Although they often cost municipalities more money, these products improve ice melting and may also decrease environmental impacts. In the long run, using agricultural byproducts, like beet juice, may save states money as they also decrease corrosion.