8 innovative, environmentally safe alternatives to rock salt for deicing roads

By Bianca Barr Tunno, AccuWeather staff writer

Government agencies across the United States are tasked every winter with maintaining roads during snow and ice events, and some highway maintenance experts have turned to unconventional sources instead of rock salt for their road clean-up needs.

More municipalities are using organic brines, food-based treatments or high-tech plows and pavement to lower costs and limit environmental impacts.

Here are a few deicing innovations that have been used across the country:

Cheese brine

Some roads in Wisconsin are treated with cheese brine from local dairy companies.

Salt baths used in making cheeses like mozzarella or provolone need to be discarded as a waste product, and it costs money to have it treated off site.

When government leaders in Polk County, Wisconsin, were looking for ways to reduce the use of rock salt, they teamed up with a neighboring dairy operation to take the salty liquid off their hands.

Today, Polk County uses up to 30,000 gallons of cheese brine each winter to spray on the roads in a pre-wetting technique. The dairy disposes it for free and the county acquires it for free -- a win-win, according to authorities.

“The dairy filters out the main portion of solids, but the organics that remain in there actually allow the cheese brine to work better than regular brine due to it going to a lower freezing point than regular brine,” said Emil “Moe” Norby, highway commissioner in Polk County, Wisconsin.

beet molasses deicer

Because rock salt is largely ineffective below 16 degrees, road salt is mixed with additives, such as beet molasses or cheese brine, to keep it working in temperatures as low as minus 25. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Beet molasses

De-sugared sugar beet molasses is described as an agricultural byproduct created when sugar beets are used to make commercial grade sugar, according to CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society. A form of beet brine has become a useful tool for many highway departments.

"Beet Heet” is an organic based, liquid deicer that contains processed beet molasses. It’s been used by more than 200 agencies in eight states, according to a brochure from K-Tech Specialty Coatings, Inc.

When combined with the traditional deicing agent of salt, the beet product freezes at a lower temperature than just a pure salt brine, so it can be used in subzero temperatures.

Top hacks to deice your vehicle during winter's icy grip
5 ways to prepare your car for winter
Experts debunk 4 winter driving myths
Black ice: How to spot this winter driving danger

Special concrete

Researchers from Drexel University, Purdue University and Oregon State University recently discovered that adding paraffin oil or other “phase change materials” to concrete could one day enable roads to melt snow and ice without salts or chemicals, DrexelNOW reports.

The scientists chose paraffin wax because it is organic, readily available, chemically stable and inexpensive. It can store energy and release it as heat when a road is covered in ice or snow.

“Eventually this could be used to reduce the amount of deicing chemicals we use or can be used as a new deicing method to improve the safety of roads and bridges. But before it can be incorporated, we will need to better understand how it affects durability of concrete pavement, skid resistance and long-term stability,” Yaghoob Farnam, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, said in a news release.

Green alts to road salt gfx

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

AccuWeather ready logo

Report a Typo


Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.

More Weather News