Cities are Using Sugar Beets to De-Ice Roads

Beet melting agents are being used on winter roads.

DE-icing truck on a snow-covered road.

(Pierluigi.Palazzi /

Falling snow is beautiful to behold as it covers everything with a layer of white. When watching from the inside of your warm home, it can be a magical experience.

However, leaving your home to go to work or school is a very different experience. Roadways can become very slippery after it snows. Municipalities in the US and Canada traditionally treat highways and streets with road salt. But salt can pollute waterways and rust cars. That’s why, according to Bloomberg,  some cities are turning to a safer alternative to de-ice roads. Beets!

Beets? Beets and roads do not usually go together. But some cities, including Washington DC, are using beet enhanced brine, that is made from sugar beets, to clear the roads. It is more effective and less corrosive than using chloride salt alone.

Why Use Beets?
While de-icing roads is a non-brainer. Using conventional road salt comes with major issues. According to Vox,  the damage from salting highways comes with a very expensive price tag in terms of corroding infrastructure and vehicles as well as inflicting environmental damage.

“We've become salt-addicted over the last 50 years, and we're now discovering that there are all these hidden costs," Xianming Shi, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at Washington State University told Vox.

This has led to the creation of safer de-icing alternatives. The recipe for the beet brine combination is 23 percent salt , 62 percent water ,and 15 percent beet juice according to The Washington Post. The ice melting qualities of sugar beets was discovered by a Hungarian scientist in the 1990s who worked at a sugar beet processing plant. He discovered that runoff from the factory kept nearby ponds from freezing.

“One of the gifts that Mother Nature gave us and scientists just recently figured it out,” Daniel Freeman, the vice president of operations for SNI Solutions – the company that makes GEOMELT 55 –, told The Washington Post: is “If you put certain carbohydrates or sugars on salt, it enhances that performance of the salt so it works at lower temperatures more effectively.”

Using safer methods to melt ice.
Winnipeg, Manitoba started a pilot program using beet deicer in 2015 and it turned into a city-wide program in 2018, Bloomberg reported. In the US, Michigan started a pilot program to mix road salt with agricultural additives in 2020. Since sugar beets are grown locally, it was a natural fit.

Now cities are mixing beets with road salt as well as a host of other agricultural bi-products that include pickle juice, cheese brine, and left-over beer brine.

For home use, there are eco-friendly alternatives to using rock salt too. There are deicers made from calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and magnesium acetate. Or you can DIY your own using dishwashing soap mixed with rubbing alcohol.

While most people agree that roads have to be cleared from ice, there is still a long way to go to convince municipalities to make the change to safer methods. Beet juice may be a big part of the solution.

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