UI officials find beet juice effective thawing tool


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University of Iowa facility officials say using ProMelt — an environmentally friendly sea-salt/beet-juice mixture — has proven to be cost- and environmentally effective.

After giving the mixture a test run last year, Scott Gritsch, the manager of landscape services for UI Facilities Management, said the university will continue to use the product unless problems arise.

"It is good with colder temperatures, and it doesn't affect the plant material or turf," Gritsch said.

Landscape workers had corroding issues with the calcium-chloride mixture the university previously used for deicing.

"We are trying to use less calcium chloride," Gritsch said. "Using [ProMelt] helps reduction of damage along the side of the sidewalks and concrete."

The mixture would get tracked in by students, Gritsch said and replacing tile and extra lawncare is not in the university's budget.

Though the UI still uses the calcium-chloride mixture in small portions, the ultimate goal is to stop using the salt mixture completely. Gritsch said the UI will continue using both the salt mixture and the beet juice for the next five years to make sure it does not cause any additional harm.

Last winter, the UI used roughly 14 pallets — roughly 40 bags in each — of ProMelt, Gritsch said.

"We order as we go through the winter; we can only have a few pallets on hand," Gritsch said, noting that the university also uses a rock-salt and sand mixture on streets and other sidewalks.

Bob Lackman, general manager of Beisser Lumber, a company that sells ProMelt, said the university has been one of the best proponents of the product.

Lackman said the UI purchased 96 of its bags from the company at the cost of $8.51 per bag last winter, totaling $816.96. This winter, the cost per bag rose almost 75 cents to $9.25.

ProMelt has been available for retail for about three years, though major airports have been using it for five, Lackman said.

The amount of ProMelt used on university property depends on the amount of snowfall and ice, Gritsch said.

"It's probably used every snow event at different scales," he said. "It wasn't used as much [Friday]… it wasn't too bad."

The city of Iowa City also uses a similar de-icing product called GeoMelt. The city has used the product for two years, and city officials said they have found it effective as well.

John Sobaski, Iowa City's assistant superintendent for streets and traffic engineering, said so far this winter, GeoMelt has helped deice the roads.

"It's very good at enhancing salt and reducing salt use up to 30 percent," he said.

The city has a 3,000-ton contract for the winter and receives half in October and half in January. The treatment costs the city $10 a ton to mix four and a half galloons of the mixture. Last year, Iowa City received almost 35 inches of snow and ice and used 3,500 tons of GeoMelt.

The city plans to use GeoMelt to cut back on the use of sand because the sediment is a form of pollution, and officials are also experimenting with a salt-brine liquid on a few hills with a 300-gallon pickup truck.

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