UI to use beet juice to de-ice campus


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Officials at the University of Iowa plan to "beet" the ice this year.

UI landscape services will use an eco-friendly sugar beet juice — a substance called ProMelt that combines salt with a byproduct from sugar beet processing — as a deicer this winter. Workers had the chance to test out the new product during the first light snow of the year on Tuesday.

Outside the Blank Honors Center on Tuesday, workers washed glass high above the sidewalk, and the cold November temperature froze the water after it poured onto the pavement.

UI groundskeeper Scott Shrader sprinkled a brownish granular substance onto the icy cement with a big red scoop.

"This is the first time we've used it," he said, laying a thin coat of the tacky pebbles on the concrete.
The substance is part of a test phase for sugar-beet salt at the UI.

"If it does well, we'll probably expand on it," said Scott Gritsch, manager of landscape services.

Gritsch said the deicer will be used outside main doorways instead of sand to keep entrances cleaner.

Officials at the UI have already secured four pallets — a little more than four tons — of the product at $384 each.

The sugar beet product costs roughly 17 cents a pound, Gritsch said, and is more expensive than rock salt, which runs about 9 cents a pound.

Gritsch said the substance makes up for the slight increase in cost with a larger coverage area than rock salt, noting workers will use about 30 to 40 percent less compared with salt.

And while salt is only effective down to 0 degrees, the beet product can melt ice at temperatures as low as minus-20.

The product is much less corrosive than rock salt.

"[Rock salts] tend to eat away at metals and the concrete surface," Gritsch said. "We're hoping this product will be less damaging."

UI Director of the Office of Sustainability Liz Christiansen said she is excited about the beet salt's environmental factor.

She said using less salt is better for plants and grass along sidewalks, and it decreases runoff into Iowa waters.

"It is environmentally and fiscally responsible to use," she said.

While the use of a sugar-beet deicer is new for the UI, Iowa City started using a similar product last year, said John Sobaski, Iowa City's assistant superintendent for streets and traffic engineering.

"We're very pleased," he said. "It is very effective below freezing and has enhanced our response time."

Iowa City's deicer, while slightly different from the UI's, still consists of a mixture of salt and sugar-beet product and only adds roughly $10 a ton to the price, Sobaski said.

Iowa City's use of sand has and will continue on streets with steeper grades or during storms with high winds to keep a level of friction on the road, he said.

Iowa City used 2,500 tons of sand and 3,300 tons of salt last year; it has 3,500 tons of the beet deicer stocked and ready for the first winter storm, he said.

At the UI, Gritsch said the biggest concern has been whether the beet product will stain sidewalks.

"That's always a question," he said. "They will not be red."

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