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Chances are, there will be a lot of talk of brine this week. And while most conversations will focus on brining the turkey, landscapers in snow management think of brine a little differently.

Increasingly used as a pre-treatment for roadways ahead of a winter weather event, brine is a solution of water and salt with a third ingredient thrown in to help the brine stick to the road surface. What that third ingredient is has become an interesting—and sometimes humorous—reflection of the geographic area in which it is used. In a search for cost effective and eco-friendly alternatives, brine recipes have come to involve all sorts of byproducts from the food industry, some of which may be gracing tables on Thursday.

Reports of brine recipes since 2014 have included wine-making byproduct in Argentina; cheese byproducts in Wisconsin; potatoes in Tennessee; pickle juice in New Jersey; molasses in Maine and New Hampshire; and beet juice in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, and North Dakota. So far, it seems, beet juice has had the most “sticking” power over the years.

In Washington, D.C., this year’s District Snow Team consists of 882 employees, a 296-vehicle fleet (including 120 heavy plows, 100 light plows, and 46 100% biodiesel plows), 42,000 tons of salt, 86,000 gallons of brine and… 10,500 gallons of raw beet juice. (According to a 2015 article in the Washington Post, the recipe involves 23% salt, 62% water, and 15% beet juice. The 2014/15 winter required 25,000 gallons of beet juice, a budget item around $40,000.)

The Washington DPW is also engaged in a pilot project to evaluate calcium magnesium acetate as an alternative to salt, which can be toxic to aquatic life and damage infrastructure.

“Mayor Bowser has made protecting the environment a priority for our city,” said DOWW Director Tommy Wells. “I appreciate my agency’s partnership with DPW to pilot new environmentally friendly approaches to keeping our roads safe this winter, while protecting our important waterways.”

Here are some interesting facts on beets and brine from the Missouri Department of Transportation:.

  • The sugar beet is used to make table sugar, as well as feed for cattle.
  • The product we use is a byproduct of the process that makes table sugar. It’s a result of a fermentation process that extracts the sugar crystals, leaving the juice behind.
  • Beet juice has been proven to lessen the corrosive properties of the salt applied to the roads.
  • Beet juice cost is relatively the same as calcium at $1.70-$1.85 per gallon.
  • We use a mixture of 80% salt brine and 20% beet juice in most areas.
  • Beet juice and salt brine will work at temps approaching zero, but with the addition of calcium we can theoretically achieve a little lower temperature before freezing occurs.
  • We store around 30,000 gallons of beet juice/brine mix to be used at a moment’s notice.
  • The beet juice actually needs salt brine to melt ice.
  • At 30˚, one pound of salt will melt 46.3 pounds of ice, but at 0˚ the same pound of salt will melt just 3.7 pounds of ice.
  • Regular water-based salt brine works well until 25˚.
  • Beet juice is added to the mix between 25˚ and 5˚.
  • Calcium chloride is added to the mix between 5˚ and -10˚.To see more article from Plow®, click here.