There has been a lot of buzz this winter over beet juice as a more eco-friendly way to de-ice pavement. The idea of using alternative materials to melt ice is nothing new, with past inquiries focusing on byproducts of corn and cheese processing, among other compounds. However, beet juice seems to have rocketed to the front of the line as a new star contender.
What's wrong with regular old, inexpensive rock salt? According to scientists, salty runoff can poison fish and aquatic organisms and kill sensitive vegetation. Over time, it can damage concrete and metals (think of how much longer cars last in warm regions -- the absence of road salt is a contributing factor). A whopping 51% of U.S. salt is spread on pavement, according to Mark Kurlansky's celebrated book Salt: A World History. That requires a lot of mining and transport.
This winter, as the Chicago Tribune reports, the Windy City has been experimenting with a cocktail of salt and sugar beet extract, which is less harmful to surrounding land and water. As an added benefit, the mixture works better than pure salt at cold temperatures. The difference is dramatic: while regular salt works best above 25 degrees, adding beet juice extends the effective range down to minus 25 degrees.
Known commercially as GEOMELT, the beet juice is made from the carbohydrate extract of sugar beets, and when mixed for use on roads can reduce the amount of salt needed by 30%. Illinois-based SNI Solutions is one major supplier.
Beet juice now costs about $8 a ton more than plain rock salt, so its adoption by more towns is likely to be gradual. Plus, some greens warn that it would be prudent to study any potential effects of the material in the environment before a massive rollout. The juice can leave a brownish stain on pavements.
Even though all the details aren't worked out in terms of full adoption of beet juice, the material seems promising. It doesn't completely replace salt, but it does help it work more efficiently and effectively. As U.S. population (and number of cars) continues to climb, anything that helps reduce our impact on the environment should be given a close look.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.