By: Lee Simmons
Summary: During a Michigan winter it can be very dangerous to drive on the roads due to the ice and snow. Normally, city and state governments would use large trucks to spread rock salt which chemically lowers the melting point of the ice and snow, allowing it to melt into significantly less dangerous liquid water. This method does work, but it is rather ineffective and harmful to certain environments. Rock salt needs to be applied many times during the course of a winter and any time the snow melts, that salt gets dragged away in the runoff and ends up in our Great Lakes and other fresh waterways, slowly adding salinity to them. But what if I told you there was a better way?
About 55% of all sugar produced in the United States come from the sugar beet and Michigan is the fourth largest grower of the sugar beet in the country. A byproduct of growing and processing sugar beets into white sugar is beet juice. This byproduct would normally be disposed of but can actually be used rather effectively as a substitute to traditional road salts. When beet juice is mixed with a small of amount of salt and spread on the roads like usual, it has several improvements compared to just using rock salt. 1. The beet juice mixture is rather sticky, allowing it to stay on the roads for longer, meaning it doesn’t get dragged away if the snow melts, reducing the number of times it needs to be reapplied during the winter. 2. The mixture uses less salt, meaning that when it finally gets caught up in the runoff, it does not salinate our freshwater nearly as much. 3. This beet juice mixture can even help reduce the number of potholes in the roads. Pot holes are caused by the freezing and thawing of water that seeps into cracks in the roads, but since the mixture is a liquid, it will also seep into the cracks and keep the water in there from freezing, thereby helping to prevent potholes.
Why we should care? Our freshwater systems are one the most important ecological features we have here in Michigan, and this would help to protect them from being salinated, I believe that is reason enough to care about this topic.
Example News Article:
This article talks about how the Michigan senate passed the bill, some pros of the beet mixture, why it’s a viable solution to the salinization problem, but my favorite part is that it talks about how we need to be careful before we fully implement it. One of the senators who voted against the bill stated that while this solution does sound good in theory, he cautions that we should fully research all the implication that would come with this new policy and to make sure that we know of any potential impacts towards the environment and our delicate water systems.
Science in Action.
Sailesh Sigdel is a graduate student at North Dakota State University, School of Natural Resources, Department of Soil Science.
This scientist’s research is called “Effect of Seeding Time and Inter-seed Cover Crops on Sugarbeet Yield and Quality.” This research is directly related to the prospect of using sugarbeets as a road salt alternative, because if every state that has harsh winters switches to using the beet juice mixture, we would need to maintain production of those sugar beets and they would need to be a good quality. This research addresses potential issues we could have with demand for the beets in addition to showing how we could potentially increase production if we need to meet growing demands for beet juice.