Root veg takes the spin off of icy roads.
March 13, 2014
by Matt Powell
Beets are an acquired taste. Those who do enjoy the earth-bound vegetable nibble at them in pickled or roasted form (add a little balsamic vinegar and salt n’ pepper for a great side dish by the way). But a company in Milton, Ont. has put an entirely new industrial spin on the humble beta vulgaris.
During a recent cold-snap that unleashed the disastrous late December ice-storm, Toronto deployed trucks filled with road salt covered in beet juice to help the city’s roads melt in the frigid temperatures. The method is only used when temperatures drop below -20 degrees C and is good to -32 degrees C.
Beet juice is actually the main ingredient in Fusion Liquid De-Icer, which was launched in 2007 by Milton’s Eco Solutions, a developer of environmentally friendly de-icing, dust control, fertilizer and pesticide products.
“If you’re going out before the storm, you’re basically applying a Teflon coating that doesn’t allow any snow or ice bond to the roadway,” says Tony Vaccari, one of the company’s founders.
While the Fusion De-Icer has higher upfront costs (up to four times that of traditional road salt), Vaccari says costs are mitigated by using less of it.
“That’s one less truck on the road, but that truck goes double the distance.”
Toronto uses about 130,000 tonnes of road salt during an average winter at a cost of about $10 million. It also uses a salt-water brine carried in containers on-board trucks to coat the rocks of salt as they’re spread.
In early January, double-digit below freezing temperatures called for the beet juice.
Toronto has been using the beet de-icer for about eight years, deploying it in extremely harsh conditions and its usually only sprayed on areas where ice will cause the most problems, such as hills bridges.
Good enough to drink
“The beet juice has a synergy with chloride and acts as an additive that produces ice corrosion and increases melting capabilities, but requires less material to do so,” says Vaccari. “The city will use up to 40% less material doing the same if not better job.”
Niagara Region claims a $2 per highway kilometer savings after introducing beet juice into its de-icing activities in 2011, and it cut road salt use by 30%.
Other Ontario municipal customers include Guelph, Kitchener and Oshawa and those as far north as the Bruce and Grey counties. The organic, eco-friendly material is a novel contrast to road salt that contains high levels of chloride that are damaging to water and soil, and causes corrosion issues with city trucks.
While the company is currently focusing on appeasing demand for municipal clients, Vaccari says the beet de-icer is becoming popular with private sector clients such as property management at condominiums and even homeowners.
Demand for the product has grown steadily, a figure Vaccari expects to settle between the 5% to 10% range. But that’s enough growth to validate production at the company’s Quebec facility by next year.
The de-icer is manufactured at the company’s Milton and Notre Dame de Loudes, Man. facilities in quantities exceeding 6 million litres per year. Depending on the blend, the beet mixture handles temperatures as low as -45 degrees C.
The de-icer actually uses a sugar beet, which resembles a mammoth white carrot that’s generally grown commercially for sugar production. When it’s processed for the food industry, a thick molasses is left over.
Eco Solutions takes the molasses, which it buys from a processing facility in Michigan, and sends it through an alkaline degradation process that thins it out. The Milton plant employs five full-time, seasonal workers that make the de-icer between the end of August and February.
“During the degradation process, we provide a melt value to our liquid sugar beet and that material is used in conjunction with salt brine or granular rock salt to de-ice,” says Vaccari.
The finished product is safe enough to drink, he adds, although the taste isn’t too appetizing.
“It’s pretty bitter.”
But it’s a great way to beet the dangers of winter driving.
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From the January 2014 issue of PLANT.