States turn to sugar beets for eco-friendly alternative to road salt to deice roads

Beet juice is considered an eco-friendly alternatives to road salt.

It is that time of year when temperatures start to drop, snow starts to fall, and local departments work hard to keep the roads clear. 

Salt is the most common substance that departments use for deicing roadways as it is very effective at melting snow and is considered inexpensive. 

While salting roads has many benefits, it is also matched by some opportunities for improvements as it harms property, infrastructure and the environment. 

"Road salt can contaminate drinking water, kill or endanger wildlife, increase soil erosion, and damage private and public property. Alternative methods are needed to mitigate these drawbacks," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains. "Rock salt can have corrosive effects in large quantities that affect cars, trucks, bridges, and roads resulting in approximately 5 billion dollars in annual repairs in the U.S. alone. In addition, road salt can also infiltrate nearby surface and ground waters and can contaminate drinking water reservoirs and wells."

To combat the damage salt creates, state transportation offices are finding other eco-friendly alternatives to road salt. 

"We use beet juice," Missouri Department of Transportation Communications (MoDOT) Director Linda Horn says. "We've had a lot of success with it."

The unassuming sugar beet is a fast-growing alternative when it comes to battling winter weather. 

"It's a little tackier, and it sticks to the road," Horn explains. "In Missouri, our winters sometimes can be difficult because they'll start as rain, then it'll snow, and then back to ice. We're not as fortunate as some of the northern states that just get snow."

The product MoDOT uses is a by-product of the process that makes the sugar for our tables. It is a result of a fermentation process that extracts the sugar crystals leaving the juice behind. The mixture they use to treat the roads is 80% salt bring and 20% beet juice as beet juice needs the salt brine to melt ice. 

MoDOT says that beet juice has been proven to lessen the corrosive properties of the salt they apply to the roads. The juice and salt brine will work at temps approaching zero, but with the addition of calcium, they can theoretically achieve a little lower temperature before freezing occurs.

"We have over 33,000 miles of roads that are Missouri's responsibility. We're the seventh-largest state highway system," Horn says. "Missouri is certainly not the seventh-largest state, but in the state of Missouri, we maintain a lot of roads that in other states would be maintained by a county or city."

Locales from Canada to as far south as Missouri that use this unbeetable eco-friendly alternative