The beet goes on: County saves, city studies use

A new additive to the Auglaize County salt-limestone mixture is cutting through ice on roadways and is helping to cut costs, the county engineer says.
Pouring a thick and frothy brown mix into a styrofoam cup, County Engineer Doug Reinhart said this beet juice, when mixed with brine and the salt-limestone mixture and spread by county snowplow crews as a new way to remove ice and clear roads, has proven to be a success so far this winter.
“We typically used to dump approximately 700 pounds of salt per mile and with the beet juice we put down approximately 500 pounds of salt per mile,” Reinhart said. “This gives me a 25 percent savings on salt costs and usage and even when you add the cost of the beet juice mixture, we are still realizing a savings of 20 percent in material costs.”
Reinhart said this is especially important as the cost of road salt has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. In 2003, the county paid $36 per ton for pure salt. The current contract is $68 per ton.
Reinhart explained one pound of salt melts 46 pounds of ice at 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Its effectiveness plummets with the temperature as one pound of salt melts only 8 pounds of ice at 20 degrees.
The beet juice, which is a byproduct from the production of table sugar from sugar beets, has a freeze point of 20 degrees below zero. The brine and road salt help the beet juice in thawing ice and snow on the roads.
With the addition of the beet juice, the cost of applying one round of the grit-beet juice mixture has decreased the amount of money spent on each pass of the county’s 350 miles after a snowfall from $4,300 to $3,600.
Reinhart and his crews also have devised a way to mix the beet juice and brine solution while the grit material is spread. Many counties pour the solution on the pile of grit, Reinhart and his crews felt this was wasteful because certain areas of the pile had a high concentration of beet juice and other areas had low concentration — so they came up with the new application system.
In regard to applying the beet-brine juice to the grit, Reinhart and his crews saved the county nearly $3,500 for each of the application tanks by building their systems. Reinhart’s staff purchased 90-gallon tanks and then mounted them with their bracket system to the tailgates of the snowplows. They then developed a sprayer system so the beet juice-brine mixture was applied to the grit as it was spread.
They were able to build theirs for $600 each, far less than to purchase the remanufactured units for $4,000.
The systems are variable speed, so the application rate changes with the speed of the truck. Snowplow drivers also can manually control the amount applied — which they do at intersections and on bridges.
Wapakoneta Public Works Superintendent Meril Simpson said the city is investigating the possibility of using beet juice in the future.
“I have plans to go out with a trustee from a local township to see the beet juice applied to the roads and how effective it is in helping clear the roads,” Simpson said prior to a recent Finance Committee meeting. “I also have been doing some research and there are some different trains of thought on the sugar content of the beet juice and its effectiveness as a de-icer.”
Simpson intends to contact Reinhart in the future about the beet juice and their application process as well as their level of success and what procedures work best, but he also plans on continuing his research on its application, especially in a more urban setting.
The city already uses brine, a by-product of the Wapakoneta Water Treatment Plant and its purification of the water. Simpson has outfitted a vehicle with a brine tank to spray the solution on the streets as a pre-treatment.
Storage of the beet juice and the beet juice-brine mixture is a concern. The pure brine is already stored at the Wapakoneta Water Treatment Plant, but they do not have any tanks for the beet juice.
The county has five containers — two devoted to brine, one devoted to pure beet juice and two devoted to the beet juice-brine mixture.
Reinhart understands Simpson’s hesitation.
“At first, I wanted to see the results of beet juice on the road,” Reinhart said. “I knew Montgomery County was using it and I talked to their folks and they said it worked great. They provided us with some beet juice to test and it just works wonders. It cuts right through the ice to the roadway.
“I wanted to see others use it first, too, which we did and then you just have to be willing to try something new,” he said.
“So far, this stuff works great.”