In a demonstration, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation anti-icing truck sprays a de-icing cocktail of brine and beet juice on the driveway of PennDot’s Butler, Pa., maintenance facility.Photo: Gene J. Puskar (AP)
If you live in north of the Mason-Dixon line, you’re probably familiar with road salt; the evil stuff that makes the road safer while eating away at the very structure of your car. You might have heard beet juice is a superior alternative, but why?
Road salt isn’t just bad for your car it’s bad for the environment and not even all that great at melting ice. There is a mixture of beet sugar, salt and water that already serves as an alternative in some of the coldest places in the world. But how does it work and why don’t we all use it?
First, how road salt operates: You throw down what is essentially unrefined table salt in order to lower the freezing point of ice and snow, breaking it down into water. The salt won’t work under 15 degrees Fahrenheit, however.
But the mighty beet brine can. Municipalities in Canada use the salty beety brown mixture to pre-treat roads before the ice and snow have a chance to form. Beet brine works with salt to lower the freezing point of water even further, in some cases to -25 degrees, according to the Associated Press. The Missouri Department of Transportation uses an 80/20 split of salt brine and beet sugar on its roads.
Road salt remains the cheapest solution for keeping roads safe. American disperses some 20 million tons of the stuff every winter. The problem is that water carries the salt as run-off into waterways and fields harming wildlife. Rock salt is unrefined, so it deposits other toxic elements like lead or phosphorus into the water table when it gets carried off by melt water. It also increases the salinity of fresh water lakes, negatively affecting fish and wildlife populations.
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But it’s not just water and life that suffers. Salt also eats away at your car, causing corrosion to accelerate. Adding beet brine can slow the destructive tendencies of road salt, according to MDOT. It also turns the streets a brown or blood red color, and who doesn’t love that?