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MDOT may test beet juice to combat snow and ice on the road

Posted at 10:18 PM, Nov 14, 2019

PLAINWELL, Mich. - A bill going through the Michigan legislature would test the effectiveness of beet juice on the roads.

If passed, the bill would require the Michigan Department of Transportation to test the agricultural by-product.

"If there is a new idea that helps us do our job better, then that's a good thing," says Mark Geib, Engineer of Transportation Systems, Management, and Operations with MDOT. "If you never try anything, you are never going to find out."

Geib says the use of by-products is nothing new to MDOT. They have been using agricultural products alongside their salt for the past 15 years.

"In the end people want the roads cleared as soon as possible and as safe as possible," says Geib. "So that's what we are always striving for."

Geib says MDOT has been using a corn-based molasses product. They store about 10,000 gallons worth of the product and spray the salt with the molasses. At one site, MDOT workers can use as much as 90,000 gallons worth in a bad winter. Geib says the molasses makes the salt stick better to the ground. It is also less corrosive.

Typically, the corn-based molasses is used on colder days when the temperature is below -25 Fahrenheit.  The regular salt is typically still more effective on warmer days throughout the winter.

"When you get down into the temps down below zero, it makes it quite a bit easier," says Eric Heffner, who works at MDOT's Plainwell location.

Overall, he says most people who work on the roads are always willing to at least try new products.

"There is a lot of thought process put into it," says Heffner. "A lot of people put a lot of time into making the salt work, making it work a lot better and trying new things."

If the beet used is trialed in the state, it typically would not work as a standalone product. It would most likely be paired with some sort of salt product.

Besides beet juice as a possibility, MDOT also plans to try out a 100% liquid solution of salt brine. Currently, salt brine is used prior to putting salt on the road. Instead, MDOT hopes to try liquid brine on its own in three locations across the state next year.