Storm Center 7 Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini explains how beet heat can help melt ice faster than just salt alone.

Beets are beating snow and ice this winter

Each winter is different. Some years the Miami Valley deals with frequent snow and ice. Other years, it is warm and wet.

This year, winter hasn’t been so bad. Many counties haven’t needed to go through large amounts of salt to battle the winter weather because we just haven’t had a lot of snow and ice.

Looking back, the Miami Valley had an early season snowfall in November. According to the National Weather Service, seven weather events have led to accumulating snow in the Miami Valley during the 2019-2020 winter. Three have occurred in February.

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Snowy or not, counties must be ready to clear the roads as quickly as possible. A popular vegetable has become a hot topic during the cold months. The sugar in beets is now an option for county engineers to add to their arsenal each winter.

Storm Center 7 reached out to 11 counties in the Miami Valley and all but three — Darke, Miami and Mercer — use either the product known as Beet Heet from K-Tech Specialty Coating Inc. or a different form of beets to treat their roads.

Denver Preston, national sales manager at K-Tech explained, “Beet Heet is really nothing more than liquid sugar and liquid chloride put together.”

The combination of liquid chloride and liquid sugar makes melting snow and ice faster and more efficient. Chloride drops the freezing point of water and adding a sugar, like one from beets, allows the solution to work at an even lower temperature.

“Rock salt is effective down to about 20 degrees now, that’s above zero. We have agencies in Minnesota and North Dakota that have been deicing their roadways at 30 below zero,” said Preston.

Greene County has been using K-Tech’s Beet Heet since 2011. County Engineer Stephanie Goff said it has helped them cut down on rock salt and brine they used to spread in the winter.

“Right now, we are seeing about a 25-40 percent reduction in the amount of salt we use depending on what type of storm we’re in, what type of rates we need to use,” she explained.

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For counties and their budget, that is a good thing.

Goff also explained that other alternatives like calcium chloride, which can work at very low temperatures, was also very corrosive and would hurt their equipment. Calcium chloride has a corrosion value of 121, rock salt 100. Both are much higher than K-Tech’s Beet Heet product, which comes in at a 14.8. This means less corrosion of county vehicles and it is better on cars we drive after a road is treated.

Montgomery County is using a mix of beet juice and brine to fight the icy roads. They too have been able to use less salt. Rock salt breaks down to sodium and chloride. Chloride isn’t easy to get out of the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sodium chloride can damage water bodies, ground water and even plants growing on the side of the road.

Dina Pierce from the Ohio EPA said, “Road salt breaks down into sodium and chloride. The sodium is controlled by the chemistry of the surrounding environment (water, soil, etc.), and is fairly mobile. The chloride accumulates in the environment. Dilution is the best way to reduce chloride in waterways.”

Using something more biodegradable like beet juice or beet molasses can reduce how much sodium chloride is used by cities and counties and can reduce the chloride emissions going back into the ground.

Sugar is also a cryoprotectant, which means it can prevent the formation of ice crystals. This can slow the process of refreeze down on the road when a beet mixture is used.

Eric Miller is the highway superintendent in Greene County. He said that Beet Heet usually lingers on his county roads.

“Honestly, it has saved us from going on out for other small incidents with the residual that it has left on the road. Say a half inch comes through, if we have treated it on a storm prior to that, it will pretty much burn that snow right off,” Miller said.

Beets are beating the snow and ice this winter as an additive that can cut down on corrosion and chloride emissions.

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